Now it is the end of days dark at 4.30 and it is noticeably lighter at 5pm, which lightens the spirits no end. Although the garden is still in the depths of winter, underground the bulbs are stirring. Many daffodils are already 2 inches high and the first snowdrops are out. If snowdrops flowered 6 weeks later than the majority do in the middle of February, I do not think they would be as popular as they are. The drifts of white through the woods, the first mass flowering of the year, gladdens the heart with the prospect of spring.
Snowdrops or Galanthus nivalis, are genetically variable and thus very collectable. Keen collectors, known as galanthophiles, are never happier than when attending snowdrops garden events. The best kind of day to see snowdrops is on a mild and sunny day in early February, with the temperature of at least 8 degrees C. Then the snow drops ‘lift their wings’ and reveal the markings on the inner parts, called tepals. Snowdrop fanatics will discuss the merits of unusual varieties and the less agile will examine the snowdrops with, I kid you not, a mirror on a stick.
New varieties bearing unusual markings are much sought after and command high prices. The minutest of differences in the markings of a new variety sends galanthophiles in ecstasies. A single bulb of Galanthus ‘Green Tear’ sold for £360, to be beaten by a bulb of Galanthus woronowii ‘Elizabeth Harrison’ being snapped up by seed company Thompson and Morgan in a internet bidding frenzy for £725 in 2012. The record for a single bulb sold is now in four figures.
There is no need for such extravagance. Start off a newly found passion for snowdrops by begging some from a garden friend, digging up clumps ‘in the green’ in March just after they finish flowering. It’s not true that they don’t like being dug up and planted in the summer – it’s just that by summer you will have forgotten about snowdrops and anyway you can’t find them.
Plant the snowdrops deeply in small clumps under hedges, under any deciduous shrub, almost anywhere where the soil will remain cool in summer. Even the smallest garden could accommodate a thousand. You can also buy field grown single and double snowdrops in the green by mail order from companies such as eurobulbs.co.uk and cambosnowdrops.com
I can recommend some of the more larger and more vigorous varieties. Start off your collection with Viridipice, with green tipped petals, S. Arnott, large flowered and scented, Magnet , with long pedicals (the dangly bit between stalk and flower) and perhaps Atkinsii, nearly a foot tall with long straight petals.
If these are not enough to satisfy your snowdrop passions and you feel the urge to collect more then I fear you are a lost soul. You may then drool at the offerings from Avon Bulbs on avonbulbs.co.uk and contemplate adding to your collection a bulb at a time, from £4 to £120 each. Where you get the mirror on a stick from, I can’t say.