Get set for the snowdrop carnival. This is the time of year that groups of garden enthusiasts, known as galanthophiles, may arrive in flocks, like bird-watchers, to enjoy the sight of the low-growing, nodding, bell-like flowers of snowdrops (Galanthus species). The common snowdrop, that brings us out in droves to enjoy as a harbinger of spring, is Galanthus nivalis.

There are about 20 species and numerous cultivars of snowdrop. They are all hardy and have strong leaf tips that will push through the snow, making them one of the earliest flowering bulbs. They are perennials and grow to form large clumps. If the clumps become too congested it can affect flowering, so it is good to lift and split the clump once flowering is over every other year, or every three years.

Snowdrops grow well in a shady site in a moist, fertile soil. They don’t do well if they are in a hot, dry position. If you are planting snowdrops for the first time buy them from a specialist bulb supplier such as Broadleigh Gardens ( or Avon Bulbs (  The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has given Awards of Garden Merit ( to several named snowdrops including cultivars of the common snowdrop. G. ‘Atkinsii and G. ‘S. Arnott’ are among the Award of Merit snowdrops that are reliable and ‘S. Arnott’ is scented as a bonus.

Snowdrops look amazing where they grow in massed groups, naturalised in the grass in spacious settings, but they are equally at home in the small garden, planted in the herbaceous border at the base of shrubs and other border plants. A particularly good combination is with the dark, purple-black foliage of the black turf lily (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’), or with the coloured stems of dogwoods.  I also grow snowdrops in pots, as my garden is so much smaller than before. I can bring the pots forward and position them where I can see them from the house on a bright winter day and enjoy their shimmering bright presence.

This year the mild weather in many places has brought forward snowdrop time and several gardens where there is usually a good display later in February report that the show is going to be earlier this year. Rosemoor, the RHS garden in Devon ( is one of these gardens where snowdrops are flowering three weeks earlier than last year.  Snowdrop Saturday at Rosemoor is on 4 February.

Photo: Galanthus ‘Atkinsii’ grows in profusion at Rosemoor Garden, where earlier than usual snowdrop flowering is reported this year.

Credit: Caroline Patterson/RHS Garden Rosemoor.

There are some wonderful places to see displays of snowdrops. One of my favourites is Hodsock Priory (, where they are celebrating 21 years of snowdrops. I also enjoy the display at Anglesey Abbey ( Several National Trust properties boast good snowdrop displays and NT has identified its top snowdrop sites ( The National Gardens Scheme  (NGS) also notes on its website gardens that are opening in support of its charities that have snowdrop collections (  An NGS snowdrop garden I can highly recommend in Suffolk is Gable House, Redisham, Beccles,  Suffolk NR34 8NE, open on Sunday 19 February. Waterperry Gardens ( where Beatrix Havergal established and ran a School of Horticulture for Ladies from 1932 to 1971, boasts a riverside walk, old orchard and new snowdrop valley carpeted with more than 30 different cultivars of snowdrop.

Photos: Snowdrop scenes at Waterperry Gardens, Oxfordshire.

Credit: Susie Hunt/Waterperry Gardens

Please check the websites of the relevant organisations or gardens for their special snowdrop openings and who knows when you have sampled the delights of these bright winter-flowering bulbs you too may become a snowdrop addict.

Text copyright Barbara Segall 2012. Photographs copyright as noted.

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