Snowdrops are harbingers of spring

With the first day of spring right around the corner and a late winter storm forecast for the next two days, I was very pleased to get a glimpse of my snowdrops, the first flowers of the 2014 gardening season. In my garden no flower is more welcome. I usually find my first snowdrops in a sunny spot, next to the foundation of the house. Often the little flowers must pierce the snow to reach for the sun and then in a day or two they are in full bloom.

Galanthus (snowdrop; Greek gala “milk,” anthos “flower”) is a small flower of about 20 species of plant that bloom in the northern hemisphere before the vernal equinox, March 20 or 21. The little flower has 75 variations and all white in color although green notches may appear on the inner petals. It rises 4-6 inches above the soil with a white bell shaped flower that points downward into the snow. They are not edible. Snowdrops can form a carpet of white in the perennial border. Amid the leftover drifts of snow, it seems like a miracle at the end of winter to see the beautiful little white flowers.

People often think of the snowdrop as a British wildflower but it actually was brought to England by the Romans in the early 16th century. Galanthus nivalis ,native to a large area of Europe, is perhaps the best known species of snowdrop. Over the years it was introduced to other areas and has consequentially become naturalized.

The snowdrop benefits from being divided and separated. They seem to do best when planted in small clumps about three inches deep. Snowdrops are easily cultivated by dividing clumps in blossom or “in the green” or they can be moved after the plants have gone dormant and after the leaves have withered. After the snowdrop blooms, let the foliage die back naturally. Unlike tulips or daffodils, the foliage will quickly disappear.

Snowdrops are happiest in moist soil with plenty of humus. They prefer dappled sunlight and grow well in among shrubs or trees that, this time of year, are without leaves. My snowdrops love the shady and humus rich beds of my large ferns While the ferns are still dormant, the little snowdrops push through the snow and bloom abundantly. The colder and gloomier the weather the longer the snowdrop will last. They love the cold!

My little snowdrops seem to move themselves all around the garden and I find them in unexpected places. Is it possible that wildlife, desperate for food in spring, carry them in their own way to other parts of the garden, lawn and even the woods behind the house. It seems every spring we have a new clump in an unexpected place.

The little flower is famous. Poets such as Robert Burns, the poet laureate of Scotland, wrote a song about the snowdrop. Hans Christian Anderson wrote a winter story staring the beloved snowdrop and the Royal Horticultural Society gave the snowdrop the “Award of Garden Merit” as a plant of outstanding excellence. Scotland?s snowdrop festival in February and March features almost 60 gardens both private and public, open this time of year so visitors can admire the different species of snowdrops.

Watch for snowdrops in the bulb catalogs that will arrive at the end of summer or ask gardening friends if they will give you a few bulbs to get your snowdrop garden started. Get them now, and plant immediately. They will disappear quickly.

My bulbs originally came from my English great grandmother?s garden. Did Great grandmother Rebecca plant snowdrops to remind her of her home in Wales? She loved the snowdrops and so do I. Even after this winter to remember, the snowdrop tells us spring will not be denied.