I love growing Snowdrops. Although I adore drifts of Galanthus nivalis and nivalis ‘Flore Pleno’ the double form, which generally grace our hedgerows, verges and Churchyards here in the UK in late January, I’m not referring to these but to other species and cultivars of which there are now a plethora available.
In this article I have tried to give an uncomplicated but comprehensive insight into growing different Snowdrops for anybody wishing to embark upon trying their hand. I have included a small list of snowdrops that I have found easy and rewarding with their flowering times in my garden along with brief notes on pest and disease, propagation and recommended suppliers. I hope you find this helpful.
Vigorous clumps of Snowdrop cultivars beneath Hazel in my garden
You could if you wished, have Snowdrops in flower from October to April if you were able to provide favourable conditions but I prefer to grow those that flower between mid December and the end of February to lift my spirits through the gloomiest months and while so much else remains dormant. I also like to grow them to combine with other winter flowering plants such as Daphne, Hamamelis, Arum, Cyclamen, Eranthis, Hellebores and Polystichum ferns to create beautiful woodland scenes that come to life with low winter sunlight. I grow most of my snowdrops in deciduous shade which receives full winter sunlight.
Fifty years ago, there were probably only a choice of a 100 or so varieties of Snowdrops to buy….now there are thousands due mainly to Plant Hunters being given access to collecting seeds and plants from areas of Europe and beyond. This enabled Nurseryman and keen growers to sow seeds of species and forms not seen before in this country and for breeders to hybridise by cross pollinating.
Before you get too excited, I would add that Snowdrop collecting or Galanthophilia has become the new Tulipmania and many of the new introductions have starting prices (or should I say startling prices) of beyond £100.00 per bulb so not for the feint hearted or those gardening on a shoe string!
However, that said, many of these plants with swoon worthy looks have not been tried and tested under garden conditions to see if they are good clump forming plants that cope well with the conditions we have in the UK, in other words, rarely snow cover in winter and lots of rain! Even the most reputable sellers often don’t provide us with this information or their particular flowering time and I myself have purchased a few snowdrops with a hefty double figure price tag, only to never see them again and what we all really want are sheets of them or vigorous clumps, not miffy, single specimens, no matter how handsome they are individually.
Choosing which snowdrops to buy as a novice can be overwhelming so I have listed a few of my favourites that are truly good doers in my garden. It really is best to start with the stalwarts that have stood the test of time. These are so, so much cheaper than many of the recently produced cultivars and although they may not have some of the most desirable markings, they are all great performers and some with scent too. Cheaper doesn’t necessarily mean of poorer quality. They are cheaper because they are easy to produce and multiply readily which is really what we need in our gardens.
The snowdrops that do well in my garden are all hybrids or forms of the following species: elwesii, gracilis, nivalis, plicatus, woronowii. There are numerous other species or cultivars derived from these, some of which need glass protection in winter and some which I just can’t grow on my soil like reginae-olgae forms. We have acid soil here and without a doubt, the best snowdrops I have ever seen are always growing on chalk, or limey soil, so others maybe well worth investigating.
When looking to buy special snowdrops, I cant recommend more highly buying from a reputable supplier. Don’t be tempted by Ebay offers (unless it’s a specialist seller with an impeccable rating) or garden centre ‘in flower’, ‘dry bulb’ offers unless you see something totally different and worth the risk of a few quid, many of those are dug up from the wild and some carry disease (which I will touch on later) ; so many are wrongly labelled. Even the RHS sell shocking, wrongly named snowdrop material. A good snowdrop friend recently posted a pic on Facebook of a pot from the RHS labelled Galanthus nivalis elwesii, there is no such thing and it had what looked like a woronowii in the pot!
Some recommended suppliers
Avon Bulbs; Cornovium Snowdrops; Glen Chantry; Woodchippings
Snowdrop ‘Art Nouveau’ is a very dainty snowdrop that multiplies well growing here with Cyclamen coum.
Like so many plants, there are a few problems that can afflict snowdrops although I have experienced some, not devastatingly so. Here are some things to look out for:
Slugs and snail – in a wet winter some varieties are very susceptible to damage but most of the vigorous varieties are fine. Try using organic slug pellets when flowers are in bud but literally only 2 or 3 per plant clump.
Wood pigeons – can peck off flowers
Narcissus Fly – probably the most serious pest and has been known to cause devastation for some. I have only lost a few bulbs to this pest but have managed to rescue some but they have taken up to 3 years to re-flower. It can definitely be more of a problem if you grow them with Daffodil but strangely, I’ve never lost a Daffodil to this pest. The first clue that the fly has laid it’s eggs amongst your snowdrops is a suspicious amount of thin leaves where the snowdrops are expected to emerge. These thin looking leaves resemble seedlings and are the result of the bulb still trying to grow and putting on survival tactics. It is best to dig up straight away and investigate the bulbs. You may well find a horrible fat looking grub inside a bulb which you need to remove and eliminate! If the larvae has emerged you may be able to clean up any left overs by washing and trimming off any squashy edges if there is some basal plate left and replant 4 ” deep on a layer of horticultural grit. It maybe 3 or 4 years before the bulb regenerates to flowering size. You may be very unlucky and be left with just a hollow husk with no basal plate which I’m afraid, means bye bye snowdrop.
Diseases – The two most serious diseases are Botrytis and Stagonospora curtisii both can be devastating to collections. More information on these can be found both on line and in the books I shall mention at the end of this post. If a Snowdrop looks extremely unhealthy with very distorted foliage I would dig it up and burn it rather than risk it affecting my other snowdrops and I have done this a handful of times. Make sure that after handling the bulb you clean your gloves with Methylated spirits and the tool you used to remove the bulb.
You often hear people who don’t grow snowdrops other than nivalis, banding about ‘lift and divide your snowdrops in the green’. Those of us who grow lots of different forms regard this information as too general and misleading. In the green could be anytime from their emergence to their dieback and it is true that ordinary nivalis and some of the stalwarts in the cheaper list below, do not seem to resent being lifted in flower, even teased apart gently at this time and re-planted, however, doubles and yellows will generally sulk the following year and won’t flower and you could lose some of the more expensive, complex hybrids entirely.
For me, the best time to divide snowdrops is just before they go into dormancy when their foliage is withered and dying back but when you can see where they are. I’ve never had a failure at this time (anytime after this is fine too up until about August but if you cant see where they are exactly and your garden has turned into a summery jungle like mine, this can be problematic). I also pot some up at this time which I don’t allow to get too wet if we have weeks of rain in summer when they are dormant so I can bring them into the house in winter. It is important to know that if you do this, you must not let the pots freeze solid. Snowdrops frozen in pots die very quickly, the bulbs turn into what looks like a rotting onion!
Also some snowdrops are happy to grow away for years in the same spot but if doubles particularly become overcrowded they go blind, so they need to be divided every few years to thrive. (‘Hyppolyta’ and a few other doubles are an exception to this rule). You always know when your drops need dividing as a number of bulbs will become scattered on the surface of the soil as the clumps become so congested they rise up in the ground.
Chipping and twinscaling snowdrops to increase your stock of special varieties
I have found chipping a very satisfactory way of producing new bulbs. You can use this method also on Daffodils, Narcissus, species Hyacinthus. The best time to this for all is undoubtedly June. If you search out the website ‘Judy’s Snowdrops’ she will tell you how to and I have always found her method very rewarding. Twin scaling is similar but it uses smaller pieces of bulb which gives more room for failure so I recommend the former option.
A few recommended snowdrops with approximate flowering times
List A – A good starter collection – Between £3 and £10 per bulb generally – all of these are vigorous enough to grow in grass too.
Galanthus ‘Atkinsii’ – flowers early January – very vigorous
Galanthus ‘Augustus’ – flowers end January – vigorous
Galanthus ‘Colossus’ – flowers often by Christmas – very vigorous
Galanthus ‘Galataea’ – flowers mid January – very vigorous
Galanthus ‘Hippolyta (double) – flowers end of January – vigorous
Galanthus ‘Lady Beatrix Stanley’ – flowers mid January – vigorous
Galanthus ‘S.Arnott’ (scented) – flowers end January – vigorous
Galanthus ‘Viridapice’ (good green tips) – flowers end January – good clumper
List B – All good plants but higher price range – between £10 and £16.00 per bulb generally
Galanthus ‘Florence Baker- flowers early January – vigorous
Galanthus ‘Galadriel’ – flowers early February – good clumper
Galanthus ‘Lapwing’ – flowers early January – vigorous
Galanthus ‘Mrs McNamara’ – flowers Christmas or early January – good clumper
Galanthus ‘Modern Art’ – flowers end January – good clumper
Galanthus ‘Mrs Thompson’ – flowers end January
Galanthus ‘Primrose Warburburg (the most free flowering yellow for me – flowers early February – good clumper
Galanthus ‘Seagull’ – flowers early February – very vigorous
List C -More expensive but very garden worthy plants regularly available between £16.00 and £25.00 per bulb
As some of the hybrids produced in recent years become more readily available and prove to be good garden plants that bulk well they come down in price so it’s always worth waiting a few years rather than paying a fortune for a plant that could be a Lucky Dip, or worse, an unlucky dip! These are some that have done just that but still have quite a hefty price tag for the beginner.
Galanthus ‘Art Nouveau’
Galanthus ‘Chequers’ – late January – good clumper
Galanthus ‘Diggory’ – early February – good clumper
Galanthus ‘Fly Fishing’ – just after Christmas – good clumper
Galanthus ‘Gerard Parker’ – late January – good clumper
Galanthus ‘South Hayes’ – good clumper
Galanthus ‘Trymposter’ – good clumper
A few good snowdrop gardens and shows to visit, check for opening times and dates on line
GARDENS – Brandy Mount House, Arlesford, Hampshire; Cambo gardens, Fife; Colesbourne Park, Gloucestershire
SHOWS – Myddleton House, Middlesex; Shaftesbury Snowdrops
If you’re seriously interested in snowdrops, then these books are a must for your bookshelf!
Snowdrops…. A Monograph of Cultivated Galanthus Matt Bishop, Aaron Davis, John Grimshaw
Galanthomania ….Snowdrops Hanneke Van Dijk
The Genus Galanthus…… Aaron P Davis
copyright Jane Edmonds #janeflowerjane
24 January 2018