Snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis: “Flower of Hope”
Snowdrops are the flowers of pre-spring. They can come as a surprise, popping up earlier than expected, or they’ll be the cause of consternation if they fail to do their duty bang on time. It’s an emotional time of the year: after a long winter, snowdrops are the signal of a new dawn.
Photography by Britt Willoughby Dyer.
Above: These hardy winter flowers are unperturbed by snow and frost, sending up their pointed tips regardless (giving them the name ‘perce-neige‘ in French). The pendulous flower dangles about 4 inches off the ground, whether or not the ground is covered in snow.
Above: Snowdrops spread happily on their own but they can be dug up occasionally and divided by carefully pulling the clumps apart. It’s not essential; they are happy in a tightly packed throng.
For most people the common snowdrop is cheerful enough but there are more refined varieties of the common snowdrop like ‘S. Arnott’ which is taller, and scented. Carefully side-stepping the affliction known as “snowdrop mania,” the Royal Horticultural Society also recommends: G. plicatus, G. elwesii, and early flowering G. ‘Atkinsii’.
Above: Visually, it is ideal if snowdrops can be planted in a place where they are likely to be hit by low winter sun. This can be in turf or the rougher edges of a garden.
- Snowdrops flower from the end of December in northern Europe. In the northern United States they coincide with thawing snow in April.
- Galanthus naturalizes easily without help, making densely populated, yet well-behaved drifts (they are not considered invasive).
- Snowdrops mingle well with the earliest spring flowers, such as cyclamen and crocus. They provide an elegant foil to hellebores.
Above: Perfect conditions. Tumbling down a woodland bank, these snowdrops have moisture, some shade, and good drainage.
Keep It Alive
- Snowdrop bulbs dry out easily, so they need to be planted in late spring instead of autumn. It’s easy to remember to increase numbers since they need to be lifted after flowering when the leaves are just beginning to lose color. Gently divide into smaller clumps and re-plant.
- If ordering from a nursery, snowdrops should arrive “in the green,” in other words with leaves still attached and in a moist condition. Plant immediately.
- Snowdrops enjoy dappled shade and the naturally dampish conditions of a woodland floor that is also well-drained. Add leaf mold (or compost) when planting, to make them feel at home.
Above: There are a number of double snowdrops, with a Victorian crinoline look. Ruffly Galanthus ‘Hippolyta’ grows on a tall stem (about 7 inches off the ground) and is a later variety. Bred in England by one Heyrick Greatorex, it was developed by crossing the wild double G. nivalis ‘flore pleno’ with G. plicatus. Double ‘Ophelia’ is another well-known Greatorex creation.
Above: Yellow snowdrops, arguably more prized by collectors, have had a turbulent history involving exorbitant bulb prices and a susceptibility to disease. One of the most reliable varieties is ‘Wendy’s Gold’.
Above: Galanthus ‘Atkinsii’ was bred by a retired nurseryman who lived in an estate cottage at Painswick, Gloucestershire. The Rococo Garden at Painswick (photographed here) is one of the best locations in the UK to see snowdrops, with great numbers of G. ‘Atkinsii’, among others.
For more from photographer Britt Willoughby Dyer’s visits to Painswick, see: Garden Visit: Snowdrop Season at Painswick Rococo Garden.
N.B.: Snowdrops signal spring. Looking for other early bloomers? See:
- Daffodil 101 is perfect for pots or garden beds.
- Nothing signals the end of winter quite like a tulip. See Tulips 101: A Guide to Planting, Care & Design for all you need to know.
Finally, get more ideas on how to successfully plant, grow, and care for snowdrop with our Snowdrop: A Field Guide.
Interested in other bulbs and tubers for your garden or indoor space? Get more ideas on how to plant, grow, and care for various bulbs and tubers with our Bulbs & Tubers: A Field Guide.