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Snowdrops Christina 

When we moved into Tottering Towers, we waited a year before doing anything to the garden apart from growing vegetables. Our first Christmas in the country was lovely.

The reality of cold, dark January in a hamlet plagued with power cuts wasn’t so great.

We couldn’t wait for spring. Signs of it weren’t hard to find. Daffodils and crocuses were poking their noses above ground early in the new year. Primroses risked opening the odd flower in sheltered corners. Blue-green shoots appeared on the honeysuckle which scrambled over the old shed. The one thing we wanted, searched for, but couldn’t find, in our English country garden was any trace of a snowdrop.

Snowdrops CHristina

The snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) is popular in gardens and naturalised in damp woodland all over Britain. As familiar and well-loved as they are, snowdrops aren’t native to this country. They’ve only been growing here for a few hundred years. They’ve been known in Europe for a lot longer. Nobody seems sure of when or how the common snowdrop first came to Britain, but every rich person in the 18th century was keen to go on the Grand Tour of Europe.

They brought back many treasures, and snowdrops could well have been among them. The little plants multiply both by seed, and by producing bulblets. Gardeners love to swap plants with friends, so one way or another snowdrops could easily escape from the grounds of stately homes. It’s known that soldiers sent to fight in the Crimean war brought back bulbs of the big, showy Galanthus Plicatus. Queen Olga’s Snowdrop (Galanthus reginae-olgae) from Greece was first described in the late nineteenth century. A sub-species of this variety will flower in autumn, sometimes before the leaves appear.

This soon made it popular.

Keen snowdrop fans, known as Galanthophiles, have created lots of named varieties. I like to see snowdrops in drifts, and wanted to bring profusion to Tottering Towers rather than individual perfection. The ordinary Galanthus Nivalis is pretty enough for me. Besides, we’re surrounded by woodland, which is a wildlife haven. £10 and more per bulb for the exotic types is an awful lot to pay for the privilege of feeding grey squirrels!

The first autumn in our new garden, I bought lots Galanthus Nivalis, and some of its double variant, Galanthus Nivalis flore pleno. The small bulbs are smooth, brown and elegant. I planted them beneath a group of hazels, at the base of trees and along an ancient hedge line, in imitation of the woodland edge snowdrops colonise in the wild. If you’re near the Wye Valley in late winter, get a taste of spring by driving along the A466 between Tintern and Monmouth.

In places, snowdrops carpet the side of the road, spilling down through the woodland. During late January and February, ravishing displays of snowdrops can be seen at Painswick Rococco Gardens ( c( and Cerney House Gardens (

Never take snowdrops from the wild. Always buy them from a reputable supplier, who can guarantee they’re selling bulbs grown in cultivation. Dry bulbs can be shy to flower for a year or two after planting. I bought so many in my first rush of enthusiasm, that fact hardly mattered. My new planting produced a sea of green leaves the following spring, with a few flowers here and there. I kept the plants well watered, which helped them get established.

Snowdops CH

The following February, we had an impressive show of flowers. They’ve kept increasing over the years. To introduce snowdrops to new parts of the garden, I wait until after flowering. Then I water a clump well, lift it the next day and split it into individual bulbs for transplanting. This is planting “in the green”, and it’s a quick way to establish snowdrops. The long, lush leaves are a reminder of where you’ve planted them, and an incentive to keep them well-watered while they send out new roots.

I don’t feed my snowdrops. The best they can hope for is to get a thin layer of compost, if I remember to mulch the trees and bushes where they’re planted. This mimics the build up of leaf-mould beneath deciduous trees. As you can see from the photograph, they enjoy this rough and ready treatment!

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