It's been an extremely mild Winter so far, with only a few frosts here in Norfolk. There have been sightings of plants in flower that really have no business to be doing so at this time of year. More than 600 species of plants were in flower on New Year's day, when we would normally expect only 20-30 species to flower.
Good, I guess, if, like me, you want to extend the period in which you can cut flowers to bring inside but things do seem to have gone a bit haywire and it is part of the natural yearly cycle to be able to look forward to plants coming into flower at the correct time. Snowdrops are usually the first bulbs to spring into life in late January and throughout February, generating a hopefulness and expectancy - that Winter will come to an end and Spring is just around the corner.
Varieties of snowdrops
Individual snowdrop flowers typically comprise three pure white outer petals encircling shorter, inner petals that are notched and bear one or two bold green marks but they are surprisingly varied in terms of height, flower size, shape and even colouring. Amazingly, there are over 2,500 different named varieties of snowdrop, some of them extremely rare. True snowdrop enthusiasts are known as galanthophiles and rare varieties of snowdrop can sell for large sums of money. Galanthus plicatus 'Green Tear', which is heavily washed in a rich lime-green, is selling on Ebay for around £100 per bulb. However, there is no need to bankrupt yourself, there are many gorgeous varieties on sale for a much more reasonable price. I particularly like the double forms, like Galanthus 'Flore Pleno' and will be buying a few to plant this Spring for flowering next year to grow amongst my established clumps of the common form G. nivalis.
Many places around the UK organise Snowdrop days where you can visit and see these flowers en masse. Having visited Walsingham Abbey last year, I can attest that this is a stunning way to view them. The National Trust have a list of the best places to see snowdrops around the country.
These diminutive flowers are best appreciated close up, so it is ideal to cut a few for small, brief indoor displays. They look great displayed on their own in small glass bottles or you can dig up clumps and place in pretty pots to allow you to enjoy the blooms for a little while longer (dig them up when the leaves emerge but before any flower buds are showing). It is illegal to dig them up from the wild so please stick to growing them to pick from your own garden.
Snowdrops will thrive on almost any soil. Plant snowdrops 'in-the-green' in Spring after they have finished flowering, but before the leaves have died down. This helps them absorb moisture quickly after they have been planted. Dry, rootless snowdrop bulbs don't establish well. Specialist nurseries sell snowdrops in-the-green and also often wrap the bulbs to preserve moisture. Three years after planting, you'll be able to lift and divide your own clumps and scatter them throughout your garden borders. Space them about 15cm (6in) apart.