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Why are we obsessed with snowdrops as a nation

01:00 Fri 15th Feb 2002 |

A.� After months of scouring our often bleak winter gardens, snowdrops provide the first signs of life, and a very pretty one too. There is something about their tiny but sturdy dark green leaves emerging through snow, under a lifeless tree or amongst the threadbare grass of the winter lawn that lifts gardener's spirits. Then there are the delicate, purest white bell-shaped flowers.

As a nation of gardeners we rarely do things by halves. Every winter snowdrop enthusiasts, or Galanthophiles as they are known, go on a host of tours, walks and meetings.

Specialist growers rarely have enough of all but the most common garden varieties to meet demand, and single bulbs of the most desirable forms and new introductions can go for upwards of 20, provided you have got your order in on time to make the shortlist.

Q.� Where are the best places to see them

A.� Gardens with famous collections of snowdrops (Galanthus) include Angelsey Abbey in Cambridgeshire, Cambo, Kingbarns, near St Andrews, Fife in Scotland and Cinderdine Cottage, Dymock, Gloucestershire.

Q.� Where do they come from

A.� Right across Europe through to Western Asia. Some of the most prized come from Turkey and the Caucuses.

Q.� We are too late to plant any now though, aren't we

A.� A lot of us just go to the local garden centre and buy a packet of flat packed bulbs, but this is not as reliable a way of planting them as when they are what is called 'in the green', basically when they are active and sprouting, which is now. Obviously they won't flower until next year but the results are invariably better.

Q.� How and where do you plant them

A.� Snowdrops look best planted in random clumps and drifts rather than in neat, obviously artificial arrangements.

One of the best ways of getting this effect is to get a handful and just scatter them (obviously don't chuck them high up in the air or you might bruise them), planting them where they fall.

Plant each bulb at the level it was before. This is relatively easy to work out as the top, above ground, foliage will be green, while the part of the leaf that was below or at surface level will be more yellow. This is your height mark.

Dig out holes either with a trowel or a tined fork worked back and forward, add a bit of sharp or grit to aid drainage and plant. Once in the ground water in thoroughly and give them a standard soluble feed while they are still in leaf. Only remove foliage when it has died right back and will come away in your hand.

Snowdrops will grow pretty much anywhere but particularly like light shade so can be used in borders, under trees on in lawns.

Q.� We've got well established snowdrops but seem to be getting less and less flowers. What’s the problem

A.� They have probably got too congested. Snowdrops need to be lifted and divided from time to time to renew their vigour.

Once the leaves have started to die back gently lift the clump with a garden fork, taking care not to damage the bulbs, separate into smaller clumps and then into individual bulbs and then plant as above.

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By Tom Gard

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