February In The Garden - Snowdrop Season Is Upon Us

Snowdrops heralding the new season.

Snowdrops heralding the new season. - Credit: Amanda Armstrong

By Amanda Armstrong

As one of the earliest spring bulbs, snowdrops (Galanthus) are always a welcome sight as they begin to pepper the countryside at this time of year. It takes a cold heart not to be enamoured by them.  Diminutive in size, subtle in fragrance and delicate of flower, the snowdrop is a sure sign that the days are lengthening and spring is on its way.

Yet despite their dainty appearance these little plants are deceptively robust.  Not only do their leaves contain a type of ‘anti-freeze’ protein that protects them from collapse during harsh winter weather but the tips are specially hardened to enable them to break through frozen soil.

For many, snowdrops hold a certain fascination.  In fact those who enthusiastically collect and can identify particular species and cultivars are known as galanthophiles.  It was this obsession that led, in 2015, to the highest price ever being paid for a single bulb.  Offered for sale on ebay at the zenith of galanthomania, the bulb of G. ‘Golden Fleece’ caught the attention of many avid collectors and, as the clock ticked down, the price began to rise beyond everyone’s expectations, ending at the last minute with a staggering sale price of £1,390 (plus postage of £4 apparently).

Thankfully you don’t need to break the bank to enjoy snowdrops in your own garden.  If you or a friend already have a small clump then regular lifting and dividing will encourage them to thrive and is the easiest way to propagate them. Once the flowers begin to fade, dig up a whole clump, shake off the soil and tease the bulbs apart with your hands. Re-plant half the clump in the same location and add smaller groups of three to five bulbs in random groups close by. Take care to replant at the same depth by looking for the soil line on the stems.

And if you don’t have your own show of snowdrops to enjoy, now is the perfect time to visit one of our local gardens that pride themselves on their displays.  I would particularly recommend Elworthy Cottage near Taunton, with over 350 snowdrop varieties on show and open through the NGS this month. Or East Lambrook Manor Gardens at South Petherton who have a Festival of Snowdrops throughout February.  A visit to either would surely brighten a weekend walk during this chilly month.