Winter-Blooming Snowdrops

During the bleak winter months, when we can no longer pursue our favorite pastime, depression becomes rife. Perhaps like me you’re dreaming of snowdrops?


Snowdrops and cyclamen in bloom at Colesbourne Park, Gloucestershire, England. Photo credit: Clive Nichols

Seed Shopping & Dreaming of Snowdrops

You can spend only so long perusing nursery catalogs and ordering next year’s seeds before being overwhelmed by the desire to see and touch real plants. Snowdrops offer salvation. To discover a plant that is at its peak when all else is dormant (and in many cases totally subterranean) is an uplifting experience. And because of the cyclical nature of gardening, it is one that we can look forward to every year—a firm reassurance that spring is on the way.


The promise of spring on the way: Galanthus Alans Treat. Photo credit: Jacky Hobbs

The sight of the snowdrops’ gray-green shoots pushing through the sleeping earth is all it takes to banish dejection. The swordlike leaves pierce the soil, each one curiously swollen in its middle, pregnant with its precious bud. The stems lengthen, divide, and launch the flower, which is upright at first then gently leaning until it acquires its typical bell-like shape, suspended on an arching, hair-thin stem. As the days go by, new flowers emerge and each flower swells so that the area of white within a planting increases steadily.

Suggested Snowdrops to Grow

#1 Galanthus nivalis is the first choice for a wild, woodland planting. In Great Britain, it is this species that adorns our woods and ditches. Although our climate is mild, G. nivalis is hardy to USDA Zone 3, as are many of the other most popular species and varieties. Populations grow by bulbs dividing spontaneously, and by seed. As the flowers fade, the stems lengthen, the ovary fattens and is brought down by its own increased weight until it is level with the earth. In this way, year on year, colonies increase and expand. Although the double variety, Galanthus nivalis ‘Flore Pleno’, increases fast and is exquisite with its multilayered white petticoats edged in green, it lacks the simple elegance of the single form.

#2 Galanthus ‘Atkinsii” is a large, robust snowdrop with long flared petals. Where I garden in Devon (the equivalent of a warm USDA Zone 8), it appears early in the year, often during January and sometimes through snow. Although it will colonize quickly of its own volition, if you have a plan for it, you can dig it up as it fades, knock the soil from the bulbs, and replant them separately a few inches apart and four to six inches deep. Give each bulb a ration of good, humusy compost, preferably mixed with leaf mold.

Vary the distances between the bulbs to ensure a random, natural look. Within a short space of time, big drifts can result.

#3 G. ‘S. Arnott’ is a classic which blooms a little later than G. ‘Atkinsii’, opening its perfect rounded flowers in February. It is a G. nivids seedling, and as such loves heavy damp soils, in which it will increase rapidly.

#4 Galanthus ‘Magnet” is another variety recommended for beginners, although it is equally popular with the snowdrop cognoscenti. It is a strong grower of medium height with a very long pedicel that allows the flower to move around gracefully in the breeze. It may look fragile, but its looks belie its incredible tenacity.


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