I’m not an expert but I do love to garden and in the very early Spring I’m always impatient for something to grow ,for some bit of colour to show spring is on its way. Snowdrops hold a special place in my gardening heart for many reasons.
The first sight of them shyly poking their dainty heads up is such a welcome sight and varies from year to year depending on the weather. This year it was early January when I first noticed the tiny green shoots which made me smile and think winter is almost over. They seem to beckon us towards Spring despite the cold weather and general bleakness in the garden. I notice Snowdrops always seem to elicit a similar response in visitors to my garden, affection and nostalgia almost always followed by a story of where they remember them from their childhood. A faint regret is also common as many comment that they cannot get them to grow from bulbs and would love to do so.
They grow quite happily in my garden not seeming to care where I plant them. whether this is in full sun, along a path, under the trees or even along a hedge line where the Westerly winds fail to make any impact on their cheerful nodding heads.
Snowdrops are often a feature in old houses and graveyards and I have found are difficult to grow from the bulbs you can buy in autumn. I think this is because they don’t like to dry out so where possible try to buy some “ in the green”. This simply means that by March when the flowers have died off but the foliage is still lush buy some or beg some from a friend and plant them. Next year you will be rewarded with these delightful flowers which will happily multiply each year.
In my garden I have a few different types of the common snowdrops. Rather than call them by their actual names ( which I think are Galanthus nivalis Flora Pleno , Galanthus Nivalis and Galanthus Woronowii) I have named them after where they came from. The Flora Pleno are the “ Mullaghdillon snowdrops” as very soon after we moved here in December 2002 hundreds of these cheerful little flowers appeared at the back of the house. I was so delighted as one of my first aims was to try to get snowdrops to naturalise. They are a small double snowdrop which are wider than the single varieties and a lovely pure white with inner petals tipped in green. They are very robust with a light fragrance which only reveal their true beauty when you turn up the flower to show double petals like a tutu.
The Nivalis are what I call my Dunshaughlin snowdrops. These grew in my parents garden for over 50 years and every year I remember my mothers absolute delight and almost childlike wonder that they should reappear so faithfully. As I grew up they appeared everywhere in the garden in huge clumps under the hedges , under the roses and in airy drifts under the apple trees. I have a special affection for them as my father told me the story of how they came to acquire them . They spotted them growing around an abandoned farmhouse in Dunsany and decided one year they would be better off in their garden. They waited until the blooms died off in March and went to dig some up and transplant them. So yes back in the 1950’s my parents were snowdrop thieves. The Dunsany snowdrops rewarded this thievery by multiplying with abandon and became Dunshaughlin snowdrops. When we decided in 2014 they would be better off in OUR garden we filled an entire trailer with them and history repeated itself. I always regret not taking that photo of the trailer full to the brim with snowdrops but I shall show you a few of them now colonising my garden.
The Nivalis are much taller than the Flora Pleno with a single nodding head and are a heavenly white.
The last type of snowdrop Galanthus Woronowii is very pretty with its tiny flower and bright green leaves. These I call them the rescues. I have a habit of “rescuing plants “ that I see are bound for a skip and this was their destiny with their faded flowers and dying leaves. I have planted them in a corner of the woodland area of my garden,watered and fed them some seaweed powder and they now seem happy enough amongst the hellebores and crocus’s.
The Snowdrop is that welcome sight alongside the other early bloomers such as winter aconites, hellebores and the tiny pink cyclamen coup. Don’t let their beauty and delicate appearance fool you as despite their size they are very tough and survive all that the cold Irish winters can throw at them. I look forward to them every year and shall continue to divide and spread them all around the garden.
( Below is an excerpt from The Snowdrop by Hans Christian Anderson 1863)
And the Flower stirred and stretched itself within the thin rind which the water had softened from without, and the snow and the earth had warmed, and the Sunbeam had knocked at; and it shot forth under the snow with a greenish-white blossom on a green stalk, with narrow thick leaves, which seemed to want to protect it. The snow was cold, but was pierced by the Sunbeam, therefore it was easy to get through it, and now the Sunbeam came with greater strength than before.
“Welcome, welcome!” sang and sounded every ray, and the Flower lifted itself up over the snow into the brighter world. The Sunbeams caressed and kissed it, so that it opened altogether, white as snow, and ornamented with green stripes. It bent its head in joy and humility.
“Beautiful Flower!” said the Sunbeams, “how graceful and delicate you are! You are the first, you are the only one! You are our love! You are the bell that rings out for summer, beautiful summer, over country and town. All the snow will melt; the cold winds will be driven away; we shall rule; all will become green, and then you will have companions, syringas, laburnums, and roses; but you are the first, so graceful, so delicate!”
That was a great pleasure. It seemed as if the air were singing and sounding, as if rays of light were piercing through the leaves and the stalks of the Flower. There it stood, so delicate and so easily broken, and yet so strong in its young beauty; it stood there in its white dress with the green stripes, and made a summer.