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Spring’s Snowdrops

updated May 4, 2019
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I’ve been walking the garden for the last week looking for any sign of life. The bitter cold of this winter seems to have made the earliest of spring’s arrivals a bit delayed, or at least it seems so as this year, I am especially desperate to greet them. Over the weekend, as the melting snow retreated just a bit further, I finally caught sight of the emerging tips of the (soon to arrive) first blooms of the season — snowdrops.

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These harbingers of early spring (which actually arrive in the late winter in milder and more temperate climates) have a devoted following — and I have to admit that harsh winters such as the most recent one are increasing my own fandom. I simply can’t resist the willpower and sheer audacity of these tiny plants that push through snow and frozen ground to bloom — the more awful the winter, the more determined they seem to be.

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Snowdrops (latin name Galanthus) are popular amongst collectors (known as galanthophiles, who have galanthomania) at least partly because there are so many rare and interesting varieties that can be hunted down for one’s garden. If you aren’t sure what the hype is about, perhaps you might consider a woodland walk where the forest floor is flushed with white, not from lingering snow but from fresh snowdrop booms. Or perhaps you might enjoy the enthusiasm and writing of gardeners who have caught the bug. These are some of my favorite snowdrop links for this season:

  • If you are in the UK, this is a great list of snowdrop related events, but you must hurry: snowdrop season is earlier for you that it is here in the USA — where your season is ending, ours is largely just beginning.
  • Linden Hill in Pennsylvania caters to snowdrop collectors, offering rare varieties as well as lots of information to satisfy your inner galanthophile.
  • The New York Botanical Garden has been planting thousands (actually more than 10,000) of new Galanthus bulbs in their Azalea Gardens, the Rock Garden, and throughout their perennial gardens. Now is the time to go see the fruits of those labors.
  • The Plant Lover’s Guide to Snowdrops by my friend Naomi Slade just arrived on my door step. Even on a quick flip through I have already learned so much. I don’t usually buy bulbs ‘in the green’ (that is, as a plant fully leaved out and quite possibly in bloom). I typically trust the source and buy in the fall and plant them dry, trusting that many months later I will be able to enjoy my purchase. But it seems most snowdrop experts prefer ‘in the green’ for the obvious reasons of instant gratification, and the ability to verify the unique variety. And unlike with other containerized bulbs, which are usually forced and therefore weaker for the garden, this is perfectly safe for snowdrops, and you can expect near 100% success year in and year out. Being a catalog shopper, I am now newly inspired to visit nurseries at this time of year to hunt for outlets selling a selection in this manner.
  • Rodney Eason, the director of horticulture at the Coast of Maine botanical Garden, talks about snowdrops being his favorite first spring flower, and how he is still waiting (with a pickaxe in hand) for the soil to thaw enough for them to emerge.
  • And lastly, I love this post about how pigs at Cambo Estate in Scotland root out and eat the ivy that would otherwise smother the snowdrops. And then they quite picturesquely birth their babies and together they lie about in fields dotted with pretty white clumps.