Galanthus are a group of bulbous plants, they grow naturally in Central and
Southern Europe. The range is from Ukraine and Russia to The Pyreenes and
as far east as Poland, Albania,Iran, The Caucasus, Yugoslavia ( as it was)
Greece and Turkey. It is not completely understood how they came to our
shores, but since that happened Snowdrops colonized and spread in great
swaths across the land. Here the growing conditions were ideally suited,
Snowdrops are now all part of our wild floral landscape, their pristine white
flowers every winter herald new beginnings, they will bring happy times and
give us great joy.
Ideally deciduous woodland is a place where Snowdrops will thrive. Whether
you have acres to run riot with your planting schemes or a more everyday
handful of trees and beds and border. Snowdrops are a wonderful treat to see
on a wintery day. Plant your Snowdrops beneath trees and shrubs, intermingle
with Winter Aconites and Cyclamen. A lawn is not ideal – Snowdrops resent
being mown and the compaction resulting from regular rolling does not
encourage them to increase. Snowdrops planted in a lawn may come up, but
they will not thrive and look rather sad. Dense shade is often a problem site
but G. nivalis would be quite happy in such a place and combined with
Cyclamen the effect would be very pretty. The best displays of Snowdrops will
be found where they are left in peace to grow without being ‘gardened,’they
will happily dwell beneath deciduous trees enjoying the leaf litter as it
gradually breaks down.
Remember Snowdrops like shade in the Summer (when the bulbs are dormant)
and a decent amount of light in the winter. So again beneath trees and shrubs is
best. Consider the site, once they have disappeared, try not to have them in an
area where there will be a lot of tramping around. They grow well in most
conditions, although the preference is for neutral to slightly alkaline soils.
They will benefit from humous-rich materials, but care is really minimal.
Natural plantings beneath trees and shrubs look super and over the years will
quietly spread. Even in a tiny garden a home can be found for a clump of
Snowdrops. As with all ideas of gardening how and where to grow a plant is a
personal choice, but bear in mind the conditions Snowdrops seem to prefer and
introduce a few to your garden.
Whether you have lots of room or a smaller garden Snowdrops will bring
cheer through the winter days. Establishing a drift of Snowdrops will take a
while, bear in mind certain growing requirements listed previously. Choose G.
nivalis, these will be best for naturalising a mass. It is always nice to see
Snowdrops from a window, particularly if you are unable to get outside. Try
not to have them all hidden away at the bottom of the garden, where their
beauty can not be admired, so plant a little group close to your house. Also,
consider whether Snowdrops appear in other gardens near yours, this will give
you a clue to whether or not Snowdrops are happy in the area. Not all soils
will be suitable and occassionally no matter how much effort is made to plant
Snowdrops sadly they just will not flourish.
Snowdrops might appear to some to have a fleeting seasonal interest, but by
planting a few G. reginae olgae ssp.reginae olgae (the Autumn Flowering
Forms) then the flowering span is longer. Autumn Flowering Snowdrops are
not as straight forward as the forms we are used to and to achieve great clumps
is probably an unreality. Simply they are not that easy and can for some reason
grow very well for several seasons and then go back to almost nothing. If you
wish to grow these Snowdrops remember their requirement for a much drier
position, which is open to the sun.
Dry bulbs obtained in the autumn are not usually the most successful way of
establishing Snowdrops. In this state the over-extended storage leads to
dehydration and the bulbs do not recover well. Bulbs obtained ‘IN THE
GREEN’ should be fresh looking, not dry in appearance or showing signs of
dying down. Neither should they be soggy. Slightly dehydrated foliage soon
recovers and continues to develop. Plant the bulbs about 3” down, often a
sprinkling of sharp sand and bonemeal will encourage a good root system.
Also some leaf mould will prove beneficial. As previously mentioned regular
division is advisable; lift the clump when flowering or just after. Care must be
taken not to damage the root hairs or to allow them to dry out. Sometimes it is
a good idea to lift and move to a new position a clump that has not multiplied.
Snowdrops are fairly easy going plants. Some may be a bit more tricky and
difficult to grow, but most will prove low maintenance and bring great delight,
particularly as late January flower are less plentiful. Plant G.nivalis the least
fussy Snowdrop watch them gradually spread. If you choose to feed (with
bonemeal or a slow release fertiliser) and divide after flowering they may
respond more quickly. But if left to their own devices these little plants will
still gently spread and reliably flower year on year.
Snowdrops are remarkably hardy and flower at a time when most garden
plants await the arrival of warmer weather. Snowdrops seem able to withstand
whatever the weather may be during the winter. For this reason it is sensible to
judge the weather and leave Snowdrop visits to later in the day to avoid a
disappointing trip. Prolonged cold spells will naturally check their growth, but
it will not be harmful. Even deluges of rain will not be a problem so long as
the soil is not overlying a poorly drained sub-soil. Despite their delicate
appearance Snowdrops are resilient.
Untended clumps, particularly the cultivars, deteriorate after a period of time.
A scattering of bonemeal in the autumn is a good idea, although Snowdrops
are not gross feeders. As to the question of growing Snowdrops in pots – in
our experience they do best in the garden. The environment of a pot can be
much to dry and temperatures fluctuate, these and other factors do not suit
All Snowdrops have a perfume, it is a smell unique to the Galanthus family
and will be accentuated on a warm winters day. Scent is a feature of most
winter flowering plants. Many people will mention G. ‘ S. Arnott’ with it
honey scented flowers, but the whole Snowdrop family have a perfume. A
bunch of picked Snowdrops will soon lift their outer petals in a warm room to
release the fragrance peculiar to Galanthus.
Beginning to recognise the difference between Snowdrops comes with time
and can involve learning to peer and look hard! Enthusiasts can be found on
their hands and knees examining green markings or frilled inner segments. But
having a head full of Snowdrop knowledge is not always the most important
thing, just enjoy and admire them. Everyone loves Snowdrops (if you are
reading this you do!) They come in the depth of Winter and will be here again
next Winter and the Winter after that, it is simply a cycle of time passing. The
flower form is three outer segments and three inner segments, although of
course there are some exceptions! There is usually green on the inner segment
and the flower stem rises from strappy leaves. Most Snowdrop flowers hang
down, but some are very frilled and look upwards –
G.n. fl.pl. Blewbury Tart. Snowdrop flowers can vary in size and poise. The
leaves can vary in thickness and colour, some stunning silver grey usually G.
elwesii, some may be a definite green, G. woronowii and the more typical
greeny grey example seen in G, nivalis. Some Snowdrops stand tall for
instance G. S. Arnott and some have a more noticeable dangling head G.
Magnet. The more you look into the world of Snowdrops the more you will
discover and be able to recognize.
The characteristics of Snowdrop are refreshed every February when time is
spent admiring how well or otherwise the garden is looking. Some Snowdrops
will increase more quickly than others, this is to be expected. This is all due to
some plants being more vigorous than others, as with all types of plants. Again
some soils will be better for some groups of snowdrops than others – for
example yellow forms seem to grow better on acid soils. Another point to
remember is how newly moved or disturbed bulbs may be smaller than
expected in the first season, but will improve once established. Sometimes no
flowers will be produced in the first year, disappointing but not uncommon.
They really do grow larger and better in the following years. With a nursery
we find that some Snowdrops are disturbed too often and so we have to be
careful or else they are not allowed to flourish, so care has to be taken. As
previously mentioned in the section for Double Snowdrops identification is
terribly difficult, particularly with Mr. Greatorex’s Hybrid Doubles. Within a
clump flowers may not be uniform, immature, poorly formed flowers will
appear as well as perfectly shaped ones. Also green tips will appear on some
flowers one year, but not the next or even within a group green tips will come
to certain flowers but not others. It can be rather confusing. So the growing of
Snowdrops is not for the faint hearted.
Definite names can not be found for all Snowdrops, they are so variable, not
every plant should be named. Identification can be tricky, but that is part of the
For those wishing to grow one or two of the less common or GIANT
Snowdrops the following are the best to start a collection:
GAL. ‘ATKINSII’ , early & slim, a hybrid which will increase well &
naturalises readily.It has large pearl drop shaped flowers.
GAL. ‘GALATEA’, elegant & impressive, the large flower hangs heavily, J. A.
Allen considered it to be a GIANT of the family.
GAL. ‘S. ARNOTT’ received an Award of Merit in 1957, being tall and
beautifully proportioned, it increases well & is still my favourite.
GAL. ELWESII the beauty of the silver leaves makes this a stunning plant,
it is easy to identify & strong growing.
GAL . NIVALIS ‘VIRIDAPICIS’ a single, well worth closer inspection by
getting on your hands & knees to view the delicate green flush on the outer
Snowdrops encourage us outdoors, their simplicity is a wonder to us. We have to
stop and look and admire. Why is this ?….. it is a bit of a mystery, interest in these
small Winter flowers encourages observance of the seasons changing and looking
at the wonders of the earth. Snowdrop Walks are now a Seasonal Event, they pop up
all over the country. It is lovely to see drifts of Snowdrops on a bright Winters day,
so see whats happening near you.