The First Sign of Spring

PUBLISHED: 09:59 20 January 2011 | UPDATED: 20:30 20 February 2013

The First Sign of Spring

The First Sign of Spring

Naomi Slade uncovers the astonishing lure of a tiny flower that holds the power to lighten our lives during a long winter...

Snowdrops are always a cheerful sight. At the first sign of spring, they bravely emerge well before other flowers and, deceptively hardy, will take anything that winter can throw at them.

Originating from Turkey, snowdrops have been grown in Britain since at least the 17th century. The vast woodland spreads, such as at Welford Park, near Newbury, are made up of single-flowered Galanthus nivalis while G. elwesii, distinguished by its silver-grey leaf and large flower, is another common, if highly variable variety.

For such a modest flower, snowdrops engender a unique level of fanaticism and when the doors open on the snowdrop gardens, galanthophiles visit in their droves. There is competition among snowdrop folk to discover subtle new varieties and there are big ones and small ones; snowdrops with balloon-shaped or elongated petals and best of all you do not need acres to amass a decent collection.

At Foxgrove nursery near Newbury, Robert and Louise Peters have been selling specialist snowdrops since 1986 and they now have about 40 varieties on their list. Each February, they exhibit at the RHS spring show, where the snowdrop enthusiasts meet to catch up with news and all things Galanthus.

It is what you look for after Christmas to show you that spring is on the way, says Louise, explaining the snowdrop phenomenon. They make you perk up and want to go outside! And of course white flowers are always special.

Snowdrops are generally easy to grow. Unfussy about soil type, they will benefit from plenty of humus and care is minimal, although it is safe to say that the more fancy the snowdrop the harder it will be to grow and the more it will cost.

The trick when creating a snowdrop collection is to mass them at the base of other shrubs, rather than dotting them around. says Louise. They work best in permanent planting but because they are dormant in summer it is very easy to plant other things on top of them!

Returning from the RHS show, Louise and Robert hold their own snowdrop open day, where visitors can check out their range of snowdrop varieties. There are swathes of Galanthus nivalis in the orchard and more unusual creatures in other areas. Labels and information sheets help with identification and indicate differences in flower markings.

This is a chance to chat with fellow enthusiasts and to top up or start a collection. And, of course, Louise and Robert are on hand to help and to advise.

Whether massed in woodland or planted in clumps under winter flowering shrubs, with their universal appeal snowdrops are an essential part of the winter garden.

Louises Snowdrop Tips
See if snowdrops are growing in other gardens nearby that should tell you if the local soil and conditions are suitable
Dont plant in pots, they are hungry plants and the ground is the best place for them
Plant with hellebores and aconites and under winter flowering shrubs such as daphne and witch hazel
Divide clumps when they get too big

Foxgrove Snowdrop Open Day
Saturday February 19, 10am 4pm
Entrance 3, proceeds to St. Michael and All Angels Church, Enborne. Ample parking, refreshments available all day.

Foxgrove Plants, Foxgrove, Enborne, Newbury, Berkshire RG14 6RE
Tel: 01635 40554

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