Nothing says ‘February’ more to me in the garden than snowdrops. Just when we’re really getting fed up with the long dark winter days, along come these elegant white flowers to tell us that spring is just around the corner.
Unfortunately, when it comes to growing snowdrops, I don’t seem to have much luck. Years ago I bought some bulbs and planted them in what seemed a good place but about one appeared. In fact I think that one is still appearing each spring but it is rather lonely!
At the time I was a relatively inexperienced gardener and, of course, later I read that it is much easier to establish snowdrops ‘in the green’, that is planted out when they have finished flowering but still have their green leaves feeding the bulb beneath. So I acquired some small pots from the garden centre packed full of snowdrops that were just about to finish flowering and I planted them out only never to be seen again. My final foray into attempting to settle them into our garden was a couple of years ago when a friend, who is apparently inundated with them in her garden in Surrey, generously provided me with a large clump which I duly planted in the shade of the hawthorn, yet again with complete and utter failure! I suspect that the problem is that the nice, partially shaded, damp spots beneath trees that I plant them into in the spring, become dry shaded deserts in summer, whereas they actually need to be kept moist to thrive and multiply. It would seem that the naturally forming leaf-mould simply isn’t enough.
I think part of my frustration stems from the fact that we grow other early spring flowers, such as hellebores, really well in similar locations. At the far end of our garden, a few hellebores have magnified into something quite spectacular for a small area. We have cream ones, deep red ones and those that have hybridised to form a mix; and they put on a magnificent display come rain, shine or snow!
Leucojum, like giant snowdrops, have also done well. The first of these were bought in pots as a ‘past their best’ deal in our local Homebase some years ago. We decided to give them a home and have not regretted it as they have bulked up and flower reliably year after year and look like outlasting the Homebase store!
So when it comes to snowdrops, I fear that I shall have to make do with admiring other people’s and for me, the first sight of them in 2019 came very early on a visit to RHS Wisley on the 4th January when there were already large clumps fully in flower. Also at Wisley, the curators were busy putting together a very special display in the alpine house of some unusual and valuable examples which have been lent for show just this spring. I couldn’t help but notice the big shiny padlock on the display case and wondered just how much those few plants were worth? Only a few years ago there were newspaper articles of snowdrop bulbs changing hands on the internet for £300!
In February last year we called into Castle Drogo in Devon en route to a weekend in Cornwall. It was a bright spring-like day and as we were tight for time, we enquired where best to see any snowdrops in the grounds. The National Trust volunteer produced a plan of the grounds, studied it carefully, and then started circling a few areas where we might possibly see some. He gave the impression that our chances were slim. So imagine our surprise when we stepped outside the visitor centre only to spot a large clump of nodding white flowers literally yards from the door! And only a few feet further along the path we spotted clump after clump!
About five years ago, one of our Landmark Trust holidays presented us with plentiful snowdrops right outside the door. We were staying in the wonderfully named House of Correction in Lincolnshire on some very chilly March days (yes, that is snow surrounding the snowdrops you can see in the photo below!) Thankfully most Landmark Trust properties are blessed with a roaring fire and on this occasion we were most grateful for it!
The potential sight of snowdrops is surely a great incentive to get outdoors at this chilly and gloomy time of year. So where should you head? Well clearly not out into my garden! The National Trust have done a ‘Best places to see snowdrops near you’ list, which is very thoughtful of them. Winkworth Arboretum, which is normally more renowned for its autumn colour or even its bluebells in May, is on the list and is not a million miles from us so we might be taking a trip out!
Meanwhile, do you have a plant that you would love to grow in your garden but which stubbornly refuses to cooperate?