What is it about snowdrops?

National Garden Scheme CEO, George Plumptre, discusses one of the year’s earliest flowering plants that bring life to our gardens in the early months of the year.

What is it about snowdrops? Every year they reappear with unfailing regularity, popping up just as winter has got to the stage when we all long for it to end, to tell us that there really is something cheerful about February. And despite their apparent delicacy, small white flowers on short slender stems, they are unfailingly robust; often pushing through inches of snow and flowering for weeks on end, showing none of the weather-affected temperamentality that makes growing so many plants a nail-biting exercise.

Welford Park in Berkshire

They also provide one of the most memorable links between gardens and our natural landscape. Because of their ability to spread or ‘naturalise’ over large areas if left undisturbed, especially in favourable sites such as typical native English woodland, they can produce spectacular carpets of white that are made all the more enthralling by the starkness that surrounds them.

With such enticement, it is not surprising that people will put on hats, gloves and wellies and head out to enjoy such heart-warming pleasure at a time of year when often they have been confined indoors for weeks on end. And over the coming weeks there are gardens opening all over England and Wales, over 100 in all, which will welcome you and enable you to enjoy one of our great garden-visiting treats.

Some of the gardens also cater for that particular group of devoted specialists, the galanthophiles. It’s all in the name…Galanthus is the Latin name for snowdrop and virtually all snowdrops originate from a small number of wild species of which the most common is Galanthus nivalis. But snowdrops are also adept at producing numerous variants and so there are now literally hundreds of different ones, many of them rare and these are the treasures that a galanthophiles will travel for hundreds of miles to see – sometimes paying hundreds of pounds to buy a single plant.

Whether you are a committed galanthophile or someone looking for the simpler pleasure of enjoying a gardening treasure-trove that just lifts this otherwise dead time of year, the gardens opening this January and February offer the best array of snowdrops anywhere and many of them are only open to visitors for a day or so now to support the National Garden Scheme.



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