GARDENING: Snowdrops – heralding the spring

SNOWDROPS ... can be lifted and divided.
SNOWDROPS ... can be lifted and divided.

AT this time, there’s not much going on in the garden. This year (and afterwards), it will be different.

I’m buying two harbingers of spring – snowdrops (Galanthus) and winter aconites (Eranthis hyemalis). Both flower from January-March, depending on position and variety, and I’m planting mine “in the green” still actively growing. All this means is you’re not planting dry bulbs and tubers, so the plants have a better chance of survival. Snowdrops, with their white/green flowers are surprisingly varied in height, flower size and shape. In a moist soil, they will multiply into drifts.

I’m going for the common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, as I’m not keen on the over-fussy doubles. I like spring flowers to be simple!

It’s very hardy and likes moist heavy soil, with leafmould, in light shade and grows to a maximum of 15cm. Don’t let the soil dry out in summer.

The best time to plant is when they are freshly lifted, when the foliage is just dying back in late spring. Mine will be a little earlier than that.

Snowdrop bulbs are prone to drying out, so if buying bulbs is the only option, get them as soon as they are available and plant immediately.

Once flowering is over, allow the foliage to die back naturally.

Winter aconites (Eranthis hyemalis) are woodland favourites. These small, tuberous perennials, with yellow flowers that sit above lobed, fresh-green leaves, bloom as early as January.

It’s a member of the buttercup family, growing to 10-15 cm. White varieties are E. albiflora and E. pinnatifida.

It is frost-tolerant and readily survives snow cover unharmed. The leaves only expand fully when the flowers are nearly finished and only last for two to three months before dying down.

Grow in a humus-rich, moderately fertile soil that doesn’t dry out. It tolerates most soil types but does best in alkaline areas.