Tips On Growing Snowdrop – Galanthus

Galanthus and Muscari to give them their correct name, but whereas we always speak of the galanthus as the snowdrop, the grape hyacinth is always called muscari and that is just about the only way in which they differ. After the crocus species, these are perhaps our two most important small-flowering bulbs and yet how few gardeners realize that it is possible to obtain snowdrops which will provide the garden with bloom from October until early spring, many of them delightful in small pots in the house – whilst there are at least two dozen species and varieties of the grape hyacinth, flowering over a long period and of the most exquisite colourings. Yet most gardeners believe that there is but a single snowdrop and of muscari they know only ‘Heavenly Blue’. And so the many lovely species, many of them so very reasonably priced, go unwanted year after year. If only we could realize what we are losing by our ignorance, or can it be that the modern Elizabethan gardener is too conservative?

THE SNOWDROPGalanthus Snowdrop

With the garden lavishly planted with Snowdrops and the Crocus species, no winter month will seem dull and uninteresting. Whereas so many gardeners are waiting impatiently for the daffodils to bloom, for myself I deplore the passing of so many of the Snowdrop and Crocus species which have flowered so delightfully during January and February. These two months, so often completely devoid of any colour in the garden except perhaps for a severely pruned Jasmine endeavouring to make known its presence by a show of pale yellow blooms, can so easily and cheaply become two of the most interesting months in the garden.

With Crocus astuxicus, producing its rich deep violet flowers up to Christmas, plant a dozen bulbs of Galanthus (Snowdrop) Byzantinus, with its large snow-white blooms. For January flowering, plant G. Imperati with Crocus Imperati, easy to remember, and you will be amazed at the beauty of the two Italian plants. The various lovely forms of Crocus chrysanthus should be planted with the February flowering single and double snowdrops we know so well.

Plant even a dozen bulbs of each group for flowering throughout the winter – the cost will be small indeed in comparison with the colour and pleasure they give during the darkest days. They may also be planted in small pots for cold frame, cold greenhouse or home display throughout the winter months and will be just as interesting planted in a window-box along with the crocus mentioned which will provide a succession of colour. As lovely as are the ordinary February- and March-flowering species, many of the more uncommon species are even more handsome, the combination of green markings in their various forms against the snow-white background of the petals being particularly attractive during the dull, foggy days of November and December. And neither deposits of soot nor the thick black fogs of our industrial areas can diminish their glory though it may be slightly dimmed.

PLANTING THE BULBS

For massing, a 3 cm. bulb will be large enough to ensure a display of bloom the first year. If obtained smaller they may not produce a flower until two years after planting. For window-boxes and pots indoors always use a 5 cm. bulb though the cost will be almost double. The bulbs should be light in colour and quite firm when received – a soft bulb may be a diseased bulb or one that has not been correctly dried. The time for planting is around September 1st, but not too late in the month, while those that flower before Christmas should be planted during May. All bulbs should be allowed plenty of time to make ample root growth before they come into bloom.Galanthus commercial growing

Snowdrops are not fussy as to soil, provided it is well drained and does not contain a too high clay content. An average loamy soil is ideal, one containing a small amount of leaf mould, and I have found that the bulbs do appreciate an alternate yearly mulch with decayed manure and peat given during June when the foliage has died down.

Though a bulb of good quality will quickly establish itself, division of the clumps immediately after flowering in April is even more satisfactory. The bulbs will then produce a profusion of blooms in their first winter. If a light mulch is given early in June immediately after the foliage has died down it will help to conserve moisture in the bulb during a hot summer, which is vitally important, for while the Snowdrop does not like a too wet position, it equally does not like one too dry. The bulbs may be divided when established and whenever the clumps become overlarge – in this way they are easily increased and they will also increase themselves from self-sown seed.

The Snowdrop may be planted in the shrubbery, as an edging to a path or under any forest trees, but I think they look at their loveliest in short grass especially in clusters about the lawn or in grass which is kept short. Flowering and dying down before a lawn is first cut in April, unlike the daffodil the Snowdrop does not suffer from the removal of its foliage before the sap has run back and fortified the bulb for next season’s flowering.

They are ideal subjects for the rockery, also planted with the winter-flowering crocus in pockets containing peat or leaf mould and a little decayed manure. Wherever possible they should be given whatever protection can be provided to guard against cold prevailing winds which may retard flowering of the midwinter species. Plant them around the trunks of large trees or behind a hedge or wall or in a part of the garden which may receive some protection from severe winds.

Like all the smaller bulbs, the Snowdrop should not be planted too deeply, no more than 3 in. A trowel should be used, or if planting on a lawn, it will be better to use a spade and to roll up a square foot of turf, setting about nine to ten bulbs and firmly replacing the turf by treading. In that way it will be almost impossible to notice any disturbances of the turf.

Another great value of the snowdrop, known also as the ‘milk-flower’ from its Greek name Gala, milk and anthos, a flower, is its ability to tolerate shade. A shady corner can become the most showy part of the garden with their milky white flowers throughout winter and nowhere are they more delightful than in the shade of a house facing north and planted in profusion under the windows. There throughout the winter one may pick a few flowers and set them around a tiny green glass bowl where they will remain for many days brightening one’s study or bedroom. Of all the winter-flowering bulbs, snowdrops keep fresh longest in water.

Scottish and northern gardeners should not forget that nowhere does the snowdrop flower more profusely than in these parts, where it is allowed to bloom without any forcing whatsoever. The late Sir Herbert Maxwell in his book Scottish Gardens, tells us that Mr. Dorrien Smith at Tresco in the Isles of Scilly, could never grow snowdrops. ‘We are too hot for them’, he is reported as saying. And though the Scilly islander may enjoy his daffodils when the northern garden is wrapped in snow and ice, there is ample compensation in that here the snowdrop is more beautiful than anywhere. In the Peak District, on the east coast of Yorkshire and in the woodlands sloping down to the Firth of Clyde, the snowdrop may be seen by the million whitening the ground again with the snow only just disappeared.

GROWING FOR MARKET

With so many country houses turning over to flower and fruit production on a commercial scale, the snowdrop can be recommended as a profitable line both for cutting and as a pot plant.

A wide range of species most suitable for cutting and bunching can be grown outdoors and the same will be so much earlier and cleaner if under clothes, which should be placed into position as soon as the buds are observed. The shops are generally well stocked with chrysanthemums up to the new year and then comes a lean period when these lovely flowers bring the excitement of spring days ahead to our rooms either in small pots or bunches. So it is the early new-year-flowering varieties that I would recommend for cloche work and for pots. By all means plant the common G. nivalis and the double form, flore plena by the thousand on bank and lawn or in the shrubbery, for bunching in February and early spring when they will still be most welcome, but plant G. Imperati, var Atkinsii, for early January cutting.

With its long stems, often 9-10 in. in length, and large blooms, this is a winner – and for pot work G. Elwesii, which from each bulb gives four to five blooms, makes most profitable returns when in small 60-size or even z fin. Pots. This variety can be followed by the single and double nivalis for early-February flowering. But a pot of G. Elwesii makes a real bouquet of bloom and though the bulbs are rather more expensive.

Snowdrops for bunching should be picked whenever weather conditions permit. They should be bunched in 20’s with an ivy leaf as a background and sent to market or shop in ‘anemone’ boxes each of which will hold two dozen bunches.

To show the great value from snowdrops as cut bloom, I will quote from W. P. A. Robinson’s Making Your Garden Pay (Faber) in which he writes:

‘There’s one story about snowdrops that I like recalling. You remember the big frost of 1948 and the thaw that was prophesied about mid-February – but it never came off? Well, in the southwest (Devon), we did get it for 48 hours, and up came the snowdrops. About 3 p.m. On the second day it started to snow again, so my wife and I went out and, with freezing fingers, we picked zoo bunches. We woke up next morning to a white world: walked four miles to our local station. . . and we made £10 for our two boxes of snowdrops in Birmingham that day.’

The snowdrop is like that, given twenty-four hours of a warm February sun there will be drifts of these tiny green and white blooms to pick for either shop or home.

Those who are contemplating growing for the cut-flower trade should try the new G. nivalis, Arnott’s Seedling, which carries its bloom on stems up to I 2 in. long. The blooms are in proportion to the size of stem and the leaves and are sweetly perfumed. They should be tried under barn-type cloches for the cut-flower trade. They are a novelty and may always remain so, for to many the charm of the snowdrop lies in its daintiness and Arnott’s Seedling can in no way be described as such though it is equally lovely in its way.

Plants in 21-in. and 60-size pots should be planted in a compost containing a liberal supply of peat or leaf mould which, together with a small amount of coarse sand, should be well mixed up with a loam of good quality. That taken from beneath pasture will prove ideal. The *in. pots though small, will accommodate about six bulbs of the 5 cm. size. Planting is done in early August for those varieties that come into bloom before Christmas and before October 1st for those that will bloom in the early new year. They may be allowed to remain outside under a wall and covered with ashes or sand, or placed in a cellar or dark cupboard until the roots have formed. But remember that like the crocus in pots, the snowdrop will not tolerate any forcing. Bring into a light position mid-November and give a good watering which should be the first received since the pots were filled. A temperature of no more than 50° F. should be the aim. Snowdrops in pots are ideal subjects for the cold frame and greenhouse where they will come into bloom throughout the winter and may then be transferred to the house.

VARIETIES

  • Galanthus Allenii. A later spring-flowering variety, unique in that its leaves are the largest both in length and width of all the snowdrop species. The blooms are egg-shaped and of pure milk white.
  • G. Bizantinur. Found in Greece and in Britain, blooms through- out December, its large white flowers having an interesting green spot on each petal.
  • G. Colesbourne. Like Amott’s Seedling this new snowdrop received an Award of Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society in 1951. Though dwarf in habit and ideal for window-boxes, pots and cold-house culture, the flowers are of great substance, frilled white and green.
  • G. Cilicus. A most valuable species in that it blooms during November, producing creamy white blooms on long stems, making it ideal for cutting.
  • G. Elwesii. One of the later-flowering snowdrops, at its best early in March and one of the first of all varieties. The flowers are carried on long stems and are extremely attractive with the deep green markings on the petal tips and at the base. The foliage too, is of a delicate grey colour.
  • G. imperati. Naturally found in the Naples district of Italy, it produces its long-stemmed flowers at Christmas and is an excellent variety for cloche and pot work. The best form is Atkinsii.
  • G. latifolius or platyphillus. The best variety for a rockery, being very dwarf and producing a thinly petalled green-tipped flower late in March.
  • G. nivalis. This is the snowdrop we all know for very early spring-flowering. It does well in pots and under cloches. The form Viride-apice has attractive green-tipped petals, and fore plena is the double variety, very lovely, but not quite so early.
  • G. Olgae. From Greece, and so useful in that it will bloom throughout October. Prefers a dry position and is generally at its best on a rockery. The blooms are of a most exquisite shape and entirely white.
  • G. plicatus. From the Crimea region of Russia, and follows nivalis in flowering-time. It bears huge pure white flowers and grey-green leaves and is most prolific in sowing its own seed.

SPECIES MOST SUITABLE FOR INDOOR CULTIVATION

  • Galanthus Allenii. Early February.
  • Galanthus Imperati. January.

SPECIES MOST SUITABLE FOR INDOOR FLOWERING

  • Galanthus latifolius. February (late).
  • Galanthus nivalis. February.

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