January and February are the months for snowdrops in the green. At the communal garden we plant 5,000 like this every year, which sounds a lot but planted in clumps when the ground is winter soft, it only takes a couple of days. When I first started gardening, buying ‘in the green’ (ie with their leaves on, rather than dried bulbs in autumn) was considered the only way to plant snowdrops; I’ve planted them both ways and reckon you get a better show the following year by planting in the green but that may be down to me planting them too late in the autumn (November is my bulb-planting month). The advantage to them arriving when the established snowdrop clumps are up and flowering is that you can see where the gaps are and there’s less slicing through bulbs hidden below ground.
Convention has it you should plant them in March when the flowers have faded but I’ve found they make a much stronger showing the next year if planted in early or full bloom. As with all barerooted things, it’s best to get them in as soon as possible after they arrive, digging a hole deep enough that the white on the stems is buried. Wisdom also declares you should water each group in after planting – ho hum, not a chance with 5,000 to get done but they seem to survive alright without.
Though snowdrops aren’t native to Britain, they’re such a common sight along country lanes and woodlands they almost feel as if they should be, and as such they seem better to me planted in grass or under trees rather than in tidy formal beds. The common Galanthus nivalis really needs to be planted en masse and even the more intricate varieties that drive galanthophiles wild really need to be in groups not lonely little singles. For G nivalis, that’s less of a problem, 1,000 bulbs cost around £100 – for rarer finds it can get to be a rich man’s game, people pay crazy money for some snowdrops: one G Green Tear bulb will set you back £250 and there were reports the top price for a single snowdrop in 2014 was $2,500…Planting in clumps of varying numbers – three here, eight there, the odd single elsewhere – gives a looser effect and helps disguise the unerring knack I have for planting things equidistantly. I want it to look as if they have been scattered by some passing wood nymph not ordered into battalions by a regimental sergeant major. G nivalis can take a good bit of shade so we plant them under trees, although other species originate in meadows and grassland so are happier with more sun.
_Winter aconites (Eranthis hyemalis) and native British bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) are also sold in the green; I tried 100 aconites last year (in the pic below they’d just gone in) and they are now poking their noses through but far later than I’d expect and rather in dribs and drabs, perhaps they need another year to bed in.
Late winter is also a good time to divide fat clumps of established snowdrops and also to shift crocuses. A lovely idea I saw on the landgardeners blog was to bring them indoors first, so you get the added value of a free pot plant first (Galanthus S Arnott has a great scent). Also, on the Kew website, it says snowdrops contain galanthamine, used to treat Alzheimer’s, and that their lectin is being considered for use against HIV. Nature’s great.