Early Snowdrops, or are they late?

Updated: Jun 27, 2019

Autumn flowering treasures

Some of the earliest snowdrops are Galanthus reginae-olgae. A musky fragrant autumn flowerer. They can flower in April, but are usually doing their thing in May - June. Most snowdrops like a woodland setting but these are good for rockeries as in the Greek Peloponnese where it was discovered the summers are dry. It is therefore less cold hardy than others. It does well in Canterbury though so it is pretty flexible.


Some snowdrop variety emerging through the snow

I know I want more in my garden, and I only have a few, so I will collect the seed when the capsules are yellow but drooping toward the earth. The seed is best sown fresh. Use a small but deep pot and sow them a cm down with a layer of good course grit on top. If you procure dry seed forma a seedlist they will take longer to germinate. Don't throw out a pot until they have had a winter or two and the growing seasons to match, so for these beauties wait a whole year at the very least. The seedlings are best left in their pot anyway so they can bulk up a bit.


An article originally researched by Marion Saxton a doyenne of little alpine and woodland plants

Galanthophilia or Snowdrop adoration

On wet and cold days when winter has us firmly in her grip, how a patch of snowdrops can gladden the heart. They begin their flowering when little else does and so make themselves an invaluable addition to our gardens. Experts believe there are 22 distinct species and many more varieties and cultivars, they all have small differences an astute observer will notice; the colour of the leaves, the way they unfurl, their size of foliage or flower and the small pretty green markings on their petals. But from this simple snowdrop lover's point of view it really means that it is possible to have the first varieties flowering in March with a succession of snowdrops flowering in the garden until September. Galanthus nivalis, more commonly known as the English Snowdrop, appears in late July in Canterbury and it the one most of us will know. These are the bulbs so cherished by the first immigrants. However this snowdrop is not British herself, her antecendents were brought from Europe at the end of the 16 century. This snowdrop emerges from the cold wet soil with leaves pressed together, like hands in prayer. As they develop there is a distinct midrib on each leaf. The flowers are a typical snowdrop bloom with green, inverted V-shaped markings at the tips of the inner petals. Planted under deciduous trees they should bulk up quickly if fed a little and kept mulched for even moisture.

Another, G. elwesii is quite different, flowering over a long period depending on variety, the leaves emerge wrapped round each other, a more blueish green and are longer and broader than G. nivalis.  Coming from Greece and Turkey these snowdrops prefer more sun. 

One of the last to flower is G. plicatus, as it emerges from the ground the leaves have a backward fold along both edges.

Another early one, which divides very well for me is the double form of G. nivalis, squat and multipetaled, it seems to have a zest for forming new bulbs, perhaps because it is effectively sterile it feels the need to do something constructive with all those sugars .harvested in the weak, early spring sunshine, waiting for an insect to make magic that cannot really happen. One or two original potfuls have formed quite an extensive carpet after 10 years. I think the birds scratching through the mulch have helped spread them too.

How to grow

A deciduous woodland situation is generally the best, although as stated above the English Snowdrop is the best for these situations. Otherwise a moist position but well drained soil. They relish a light feed of blood and bone or general fertiliser at the start of their growing season and otherwise should be left alone as much as possible. The bulbs divide readily when the leaves begin to die back , but don't leave them out of the soil for too long or let them dry out. One pest is the Narcissus fly which drops eggs into the dying foliage, one or two of which will grow into grubs eating out the inside of the bulb, if not killing it, setting the bulb back several years. Companion planting with other woodland plants probably distracts the flies from their quest.

Twin scaling can be carried out on snowdrops to bulk up quickly. Ripe, yellowing whole pods can be sown when the seeds are still moist. One year later leaves might appear and flowers in three to four years.

The bulbs also grow well in alpine troughs, a display of potted plants purchased in bloom and set with moss in a trough or rustic container will grace your home and can be planted out in the garden once the blooms fade.

Cultivars readily available in New Zealand are Sam Arnott, Magnet and Emerald Hughs. Don't necessarily trust the labels when you buy them, enjoy them as they are or borrow and study "A Monograph of Cultivated Galanthus" by Matt Bishop, Aaron Davis and John Grimshaw from the NZAGS library.

https://www.facebook.com/pg/galanathusgala/events/?ref=page_internal This is a facebook group Galathus Gala in the States


How about visiting Armenia and Georgia in late March?

Well it’s a nice idea…

I have put this plug in as Chris Gardner gave us such a great talk last year about flora of the Silk Raod


The variety sold as "Emerald Hughs" has bulked up well in a rock garden setting

Credit Doug Logan


Terrace Station, pictured blow, has extensive plantings beneath deciduous

trees planted in the 1850s, and for the past twenty years Kate Foster has

been planting the 1860s oak woodland beyond the homestead garden. The open

day for Galanthophiles or those who just want a nice day out is ‘Snowdrop

Sunday’, in August www.terracestation.org.nz Kate Foster has discovered that great companion plants are Lily of the Valley as it does not come through the

ground until after the snowdrops are finished as are the short stemmed violets.


Plan a trip to terrace Station in August

By Marion Saxton and Suzanne Pickford

info@nzags.com        Thank you to Hamish Brown, main photographs