I love snowdrops, you probably love snowdrops………..everyone seems to love a snowdrop! Whether on their own or en masse they are a beauty to behold. Along with Aconites they are one of the first flowers to appear in the new year. They cheer people up, they bring joy and ‘they makes us happy’ – as Gollum might say!
As I put the finishing touches to this article, it is January the 14th. The first snowdrops have appeared and are in flower already. From a distance their pure white heads are nodding acrobatically in the wind. Nature is preparing crocus, then daffodil and bluebell to follow. Christmas already seems a long time in the past.
Is the snowdrop white seasonal? Yes. Does it stand for purity? To some. What does it have in common with the lead white of an artist? Well Leonardo da Vinci said “for those colours which you wish to be beautiful, always prepare a pure white ground”.
What’s in a name?
The Common Snowdrop belongs to the genus Galanthus. It has the species name Galanthus nivalis. Galanthus comes from Greek where Gala means ‘milk’ and ‘anthos’ is flower; nivalis means snowy. In the wilds of Hertfordshire it is found either as an escape from gardens or has been ‘wild planted’.
It flowers from January to March and is extensively naturalised in Britain, France and Germany. Trevor James states in his Flora of Hertfordshire that it forms “convincingly wild looking colonies” by shady stream sides, in damp woods and in meadows. The flowers are bell shaped with nodding petals. The inner petals are tipped green, the outer ones are green on the back.
There are a large number of varieties they include:
Planting and establishing Snowdrops
Many people plant them in the autumn when bulbs are sold by retailers. By far the best way of establishing them is by planting ‘in the green’ when they become available in late February and March. But order them before then!
Where can you see Snowdrops?
Because the Snowdrop is widely naturalised you can see it in the wild. It occurs in 26% (Trevor James again) of Hertfordshire tetrads (an area that measures 2km x 2km). It is therefore quite widespread in this county.
It is easy to see in botanic gardens eg Cambridge or Kew. You could also try Anglesey Abbey in their winter garden. More locally the village of Benington seems to have a surfeit of these charming ‘milky green bells’. I often describe the place as ‘snowdrop city’.
The Benington Lordship has a vast landscape of Snowdrops that can be viewed in flower. The Lordship is open in 2020 from around the 10th February for three weeks, 12 to 5pm. Teas available.
Key reference: James TJ (2009) Flora of Hertfordshire