Snowdrops tell us spring is coming

Snowdrops tell us spring is coming

Are you a galanthophile? That's a posh word for an enthusiastic collector of snowdrops.

Why do people collect those tiny white harbingers of spring? Because there are many more varieties than you might expect. 

To the untrained eye, those attractive clumps of white all look the same. But snowdrops come in a number of different species, and there's lots of variety within these. Generations of keen gardeners have been experimenting with snowdrops, producing an ever-growing number of cultivars - that is, new variants.

The most common form of snowdrop is Galanthus nivalis, followed by the double form Galanthus nivalis 'Flore Pleno'.

We've worked hard to encourage snowdrops all over the gardens at Tinnisburn. Now they're a glorious early spring sight, literally covering the ground in great drifts of sweetly scented snowy flowers.

They're not just good to look at. Snowdrops are a welcome source of nectar for bees and other insects, as they come out of winter hibernation.

Other forms of snowdrop include Galanthus plicatus, the pleated snowdrop. It's named for its pleated leaves.

Galanthus woronowii has glossy, fresh green foliage and, like the others we've mentioned, it thrives in the damp, heavy soil at Tinnisburn.

That's unlike Galanthus elwesii, a species that prefers much lighter and drier soils. If your garden has a sandy soil and you're finding it hard to grow the more common varieties of snowdrop, you may want to give this species a go.

The name, snowdrop, seems obvious given that the flowers are white and bloom in early spring. However, these flowers used to be known by names such as 'February fairmaids', 'dingle-dangle' or even 'Candlemas bells'. 

Snowdrops grow from bulbs that lie invisible under the soil for much of the year. You can plant these in the autumn or winter, but the best time is in the spring, when they are 'in the green'. That is, they've just flowered and still have their green foliage. 

Planting snowdrops in the green gives them their best chance of becoming established.

You don't have to be a galanthophile to love the refreshing sight of snowdrops. But you do need to plan ahead if you want a display of them in your garden next spring.