The Enchantment of visiting Snowdrop Gardens
If any flower signals the end of winter and the coming of spring, then it is surely the snowdrop!
But this is far from the truth since some snowdrops flower before winter has even begun. True, there are only a few varieties that flower in November and December and it is the single flowered Galanthus nivalis that gives us such a thrill to see growing en masse in February.
In this part of the world vast drifts of snowdrops can be seen without having to travel far. But large gardens, lavishly planted with these the first real spring bulbs, are scattered throughout Britain!
It is said that snowdrops were brought back to Britain by soldiers returning from the Crimean War and that they scooped up bulbs as they returned home at the end of winter. If that is the case, it might explain why these delightful little bulbs are so widely spread in Britain.
Snowdrops might just as easily be called “snow pearls” as they glisten in the winter sunshine but also shake their heads to the winter rains and wind! Their Latin or scientific name is Galanthus. This literally translated means ‘milk flower’ and almost all are white. Now “Galanthophiles”- those fanatics who inspect and admire every bloom and see differences in varieties that are beyond me and you – will quickly point out that some have bits of yellow. And others bits of green markings on the petals and the devil is in the detail!
For many gardeners the much sought after sight of the first snowdrops in the hedgerow is the sign that a new gardening season has started. These are likely to be the single flowered and prolific Galanthus nivalis. If they are double flowered, and they often are around large old estates, then they are probably Galanthus nivalis ‘Flore Pleno’.
Growing Snowdrops – key points
Snowdrops in the garden can be a bit tricky if not downright frustrating to get established. The key to success is to plant bulbs just as soon as they become available for sale in late summer. You can plant them straight out into the garden or into small 9 cm pots but left outside without any protection. If you go down the little pot route then, when they are shooting in spring, you can pop them into the gap that perhaps in summer wasn’t so obvious! The other method is to transplant existing established plants immediately after flowering but before the leaves have died down. This is called “in the green” planting. You lift a whole clump and very carefully divide the roots and bulbs to replant them straight away but at wider spacing. Many snowdrops- and Galanthus nivalis in particular- spread well by seeding themselves in the immediate vicinity. Bear this in mind when you see wispy little onion like shoots emerging in late winter! These will be the immature snowdrops! They will need a couple of years to grow big enough to flower. If you are a tidy gardener and an efficient weed remover, this warning is meant for you! Try to find a bit of shade for your snowdrop bulbs and plant into soil that is well drained and yet doesn’t dry out to much either.
Shepton Mallet Snowdrop Festival
Shepton Mallet has followed Shaftesbury’s lead and is establishing its own annual snowdrop festival. But Shepton has a particular reason to celebrate this lovely early bloomer. A past resident James Allen [1832-1906] was responsible for hybridising and cultivating over 100 snowdrop varieties. The festival plans to celebrate his passion for this lovely little bulb annually. Snowdrops have been planted on roundabouts and will grace new planters to be placed the length of the High Street. The festival takes place this year on February 17th to 19th with processions, shop window displays, poetry readings and art exhibitions.
But ‘Merlin’, one of James Allen’s finest hybrids, is sadly currently uncommon. Nevertheless as a festival highlight some bulbs have been found and will be planted on his grave. To my surprise, this is one that has done rather well in my own garden as my image shows!
Where to see great Snowdrop Gardens
We are especially fortunate in the West Country to be able to visit many snowdrop gardens. I’d encourage you to plan to see one or two of them during the next couple of weeks. Below I have listed some of the principal places that you might visit. In areas like the Cotswolds it is perfectly feasible to take in several snowdrop gardens in a day!
Do check with the snowdrop gardens for times of openings and best times to visit.
- Batsford Arboretum, Moreton-in-Marsh, GL56 9QB Open daily
- Cerney Gardens, North Cerney, Cirencester, GL7 7BX Open daily
- Colesbourne Park, Open every weekend in February and March 4-5th
- Cotswold Farm, Cirencester, GL7 7JS – Open Feb 11,12,13th and 20th and 27th
- East Lambrook Manor Garden, South Petherton, Somerset, TA13 5HH. Open Tuesday to Sunday
- Exmoor Private Snowdrop Valley, Weddon Cross and Cutcombe, Exmoor. Open daily until 26th Feb
- Forde Abbey House and Garden, Chard, TA20 4LU. -Open daily.
- Kempsford Manor, Fairford, Glos. GL7 4EQ -Open Sunday afternoons
- Painswick Rococo Gardens, Painswick, Gloucestershire, GL6 6TH – Open daily
- Rodmarton Manor, Oathill Lane, Rodmarton, Cirencester, GL7 6PF – Open 12th, 16th and 19th
Further reading –
Other bulbs that you might care to plant to naturalise.