Snowdrops

Poems and stories have been written about them, they are the focus of plant collectors, an artist’s delight and a photographer’s pain in the neck.

The beautiful, simple, graceful, snowdrop (Galanthus) is the first bulb to flower and by using a few carefully chosen varieties you can be delighted by their simple elegance from December to March.

They are native throughout much of Europe; many people think that they are a British native wild flower but they were probably introduced here around the early sixteenth century.

There are more than 20 species of snowdrop and over 500 cultivars. They differ in size, shape, markings of the flower and the period of flowering.

They are excellent for naturalising in grass and very useful for planting beneath trees, in-fact they will cheer up any border in winter. A moist but well-drained soil is best for them, they do well on chalk, but not on heavy clay; They need rich loam or leaf-mould, and to be planted deeply in light shade, making sure they do not dry out in summer. The jury is still out over when to plant but ‘In the green’ after the flowers have faded, rather than as bulbs is the favoured option.

Once planted, snowdrops can be left to establish for a period of 4-5 years before they become overcrowded and congested. They then need lifting and dividing. This process is best done at the end of the flowering period when the leaf tips are just beginning to turn yellow. Lift the clumps and split with a garden fork then carefully separate using your fingers to prise the bulbs apart. Replant in groups of 3 or 5 at approx. 2-3 inches deep.

An active substance in snowdrop is called galantamine. It is said that this can slow down the progression of dementia and can help to ease the symptoms of memory loss, confusion and changes in behavior. It works by increasing the amount of a natural chemical in the brain called acetylcholine which is known to be low in people with Alzheimer’s.

In the next few weeks you can see displays of naturalised bulbs at specialist gardens throughout the UK. So quickly check out where your nearest garden is, put on your warmest clothes and get ready to join the love affair with this understated beauty.

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