PUBLISHED: 12:00 13 February 2015 | UPDATED: 12:00 13 February 2015
After the cold winter months, the site of snowdrops blooming in February means that spring is not far away. Philippa Pearson looks at their history and shares the best places in Essex to see them
‘The snowdrop in purest white array, First rears her head on Candlemas Day’.
This description of snowdrops from an early book on church flowers highlights one of the most welcoming sights in late winter. At a lean time in the gardening calendar, snowdrops remain in bloom for up to a month, with varieties spanning October to March. The status of these fascinating bulbs has reached manic proportions, such is the interest in them among collectors, or galanthophiles, but it’s not just in recent times that snowdrops have captivated the eye of the beholder.
Monks dedicated the white flowers to the Virgin Mary as snowdrops bloomed at the time she took the child Jesus to the temple. At the Feast of Purification, snowdrops were strewed on the altar: another association with this date of February 2, Candlemas Day. Snowdrops were once known as Candlemas Bells as they traditionally came into flower around then. Other names given to snowdrops include Fair Maids of February, French Snowdrop, Purification Flower, Snow-flower and White Ladies.
The name snowdrop came from a popular earring style of the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe, particularly in Germany. The main snowdrop variety is Galanthus nivalis, a name which translates from its Greek and Latin roots as ‘Snowy Milkblossom’, and the traditional planting time for all snowdrops is ‘in the green’, just after they have finished flowering. Snowdrops hate being left to dry out and don’t establish very successfully as dry bulbs, so dig up clumps soon after flowering while still in leaf and the very fact of moving them increases the stock immediately.
Like most bulbs, don’t plant singularly, but in groups of at least five or more and choose a light shady area under trees or shrubs in soil that reflects their natural woodland habitat, adding composted leaf mould or organic matter if necessary to the planting site.
The famous snowdrop collection over the border in Cambridgeshire at Anglesey Abbey Gardens was discovered by chance after Dutch elm disease hit the estate in the 1970s. Thousands of mature elms across 98 acres of garden were lost and while clearing trees in an area once used by the Victorians to dump their kitchen and garden refuse, gardeners noticed that many snowdrop bulbs had also been dumped there. 15 varieties of snowdrop were discovered, including one much admired by visitors, Galanthus elwesii ‘Lode Star’. The gardens are now carpeted in winter with more than 320 different varieties of snowdrop.
Gardens to visit
Bayley Street, Castle Hedingham
Essex CO9 3DJ
Snowdrop Sundays on February 8, 15 and 22
View the many varieties of snowdrops planted in the grounds during the early 1900s which perfectly show off the stunning castle.
Little Easton, Great Dunmow
Essex CM6 2BB
Snowdrop Sundays, February 22 and March 1, 11.30am to 4pm
Enjoy two acres of woodland in bloom with snowdrops in these historical gardens. Snowdrops in the green are available for sale.
The Old Rectory
Church Road, Boreham
Essex CM3 3EP
Saturday and Sunday, February 21 and 22, noon to 3pm
Garden open for NGS with lots of snowdrops and other late winter bulbs in flower. Soup and sausage rolls available.
Marks Hall Arboretum
Coggeshall, Essex CO6 1TG
Snowdrop Weekend, Friday, February 6 to Sunday, February 8, 10.30am to 4pm
Robins Grove is blanketed with delicate white snowdrops in this woodland area. Homemade soup and refreshments are available at the
Off London Road, Saffron Walden
Essex CB11 4JF
Gardens open weekends in February, 10am-4pm
Masses of snowdrops around the gardens and park area along with other winter flowering bulbs and interest from shrubs and trees.
Green Island Gardens
Park Road, Ardleigh
Essex CO7 7SP
View masses of snowdrops in 20 acres of garden. There’s also good displays of unusual winter scented flowering shrubs. Open from February 1, 10am to 5pm, every day except Monday and Saturday.
Quy Road, Lode, Cambridge
Cambridgeshire CB25 9EJ
Open from January 26 to March 1 for the snowdrop season
Just outside the county, but well worth
visiting. Weekdays are quieter for visiting. Refreshments available.