Here we are on 3rd January and the daylight hours are drawing out. A quick look around the garden in the January sunshine showed dozens of spring bulbs pushing up through the soil, with the promise of all manner of spring colour.
Today, however, I noted the very first hint of the first spring bloom – in this garden at least, I am sure there are places where snowdrops are already in full swing! My solitary snowdrop – Galanthus nivalis – is just beginning to break bud, however and it is one that I am proud of because last year (our first spring here) there were none here at all.
I planted a handful of bulbs way back in June with few expectations because the perceived wisdom for growing these notoriously unpredictable flowers is to plant them ‘in the green’ – that is to plant pot-grown plants (or if you are lucky enough to have a friend with some to spare, to transplant them in clumps) just as the flowers have started to whither. This should be done with soil intact as the less their roots are disturbed the better. I have tried planting packet-bought bulbs many times with limited success To have at least one flower from my rather hurried efforts is rather satisfying to say the least.
Snowdrops prefer shade and often grow best in wooded areas. My little clump of ten or so shoots is situated in the lee of the front gate post. It seemed the best place for them not only because it is shady but also because their nodding white blooms will give the most pleasure as we hurry to and from the front door in the colder and damper months from January to March.
Contrary to popular belief snowdrops are not native to the UK but were brought here many centuries ago from the alpine areas of Europe.
According to hearsay the plants are able to generate their own heat, though there is little proof of that. There is current research being made of the medicinal properties of Galanthus nivalis as a treatment for Alzheimer’s.
The Latin name translates as ‘Milkflower of the snow’, and in Wales their name ‘Eirlys’ translates as ‘Snow Lilly.’ In other regions they are known as the ‘Fair Maid of February’.
Snowdrops are often seen clustered upon graves and carpeting the floors of Britain’s churchyards, which doubtless gives rise to their reputation as an omen of death, though this is something often said of many white flowers – most especially any member of the lily family.
One superstition has it that bringing a snowdrop into the house will bring ill-fortune and that a death will occur in the family within the year. Another tells us that a Snowdrop in the kitchen will sour the milk and spoil butter and eggs. These various assertions of doom seem only to apply to cut/picked flowers, however, and not the pot-grown variety – so you need not throw away that Christmas gift of flowering bulbs sitting on the hall table 🙂 Save them and plant them out once they have gone to seed.
For me the biggest reason for leaving snowdrops out in the garden is that they soon die once plucked – and the sheer pleasure of seeing them there in the garden when everything else is still sleeping under the soil far outweighs a day or two seeing them on a shelf or table.