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Garden Talk: In praise of snowdrops

There’s something magical about snowdrops with their dainty white heads appearing in dreary mid winter, giving us a reason to be cheerful.

The most common variety, Galanthus nivalis – roughly translated as ‘milk white flower ’ has a single flower and green v- shaped markings on the inner petals, and G. nivalis ‘Flore Pleno’ is a frillier double version.But there are hundreds of cultivars with subtle differences in size, markings and colouring.

Snowdrops are woodland plants and thrive in moist, well-drained soil, in dappled shade. They look wonderful naturalised in grass or carpeting the ground under trees.  But they also work in drifts in borders or underplanting shrubs or multi-stems such as silver birch. Pick a spot, such as a front garden or somewhere visible from a window, were you can appreciate them easily.

Companion plants

Aim for naturalism by planting snowdrops in little clumps of three, five or seven, with about 20 or so in total for impact. Snowdrops look stunning interplanted with tiny pinky purple Cyclamen coum or other delicate early spring bulbs such as Crocus tommasinianus creating a pretty tapestry.

Hellebores are great snowdrop partners, particularly the inky purple varieties of Helleborus x hybridus. Ferns are also natural partners, loving the same damp shady conditions. For a monochrome statement try dotting snowdrops amongst low growing black grass, Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’.  The colourful red and orange stems of cornus  (Dogwood) also provide a great backdrop. Another option is a pot large enough for them to get enough moisture and nutrients, as you’ll be able to appreciate their delicate beauty upclose.

Growing tips…

Snowdrops are best bought in the green, before the leaves have died down, around March. Plant them straight away to avoid them drying out, to the original depth(the leaves that were below soil will be paler). Add sharp sand or grit to heavy soil to improve drainageand firm them in. Leave on the foliage until it dies naturally,  as this feeds the bulbs for next year.  If you have large colonies, divide them in March by carefully lifting a clump with a spade andplanting as above.

Snowdrop gardens and walks in and around London

Ham House and Garden
Just along the river from Richmond, this is a great day out. Admire the snowdrops in the woodland garden, followed by a warming cuppa in the café. Some of the beautiful 17thCentury house is also open in the winter. Nationaltrust.org.uk

Kew Gardens
A hearty walk around the 300 acres should keep you warm – head to the Rock Garden and Davies Alpine House for your snowdrop fix. Kew.org

Ightham Mote
The estate and gardens at Ightham Mote are open in February for a stroll around the grounds, spotting snowdrops as you go. Nationatrust.org.uk

Hever Castle
Around 80,000 snowdrops have been planted to create a trail, open from 9thFebruary. Look out for unsual varieties such as yellow tipped ‘Wendy’s Gold’, or a giant 9 inch variety called ‘Colossus.’ Hevercastle.co.uk

Polesden Lacey
Tucked away in the Surrey Hills, this is a great London escape for wintry walks around the estate and snowdrop spotting in the Winter Garden. Nationaltrust.org

The National Garden Scheme’s snowdrop festival has hundreds ofgardens teeming with snowdrops. To find one near you visit: www.ngs.org.uk/snowdrops

This article first appeared in the February 2019 issue of SE22 magazine.