PUBLISHED: 16:36 09 February 2009 | UPDATED: 15:47 20 February 2013
After winter, the site of snowdrops in bloom heralds the imminent arrival of spring. Philippa Pearson reveals why they are so special and where is best to see them in Essex
SNOWDROPS are one of a gardener's most welcome sights.
At a lean time in the gardening calendar, snowdrops remain in bloom for up to a month with varieties spanning October to March.
Snowdrops have an addictive quality and a couple of hours on a sunny winter's day are all they need to work their charm on you. 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 laid on the altar and they were associated with the date of February 2, known as Candlemas Day.
Snowdrops were once known as Candlemas Bells as they traditionally came into flower around the festival. 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 European earring style of the 16th and 17th centuries.
'At a lean time in the gardening calendar,
snowdrops remain in bloom for up to a month'
The main snowdrop variety is galanthus nivalis, a name which translates from its Greek and Latin roots as 'snowy milk blossom'. 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. Dig up clumps soon after flowering, and while still in leaf, and the very act of moving them increases the stock immediately. Like most bulbs, don't plant singularly, but in groups of at least three, 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.
Snowdrops can be quite promiscuous but it's this natural crossing of different types that leads to new and exciting cultivars being produced.
There is a famous snowdrop collection just over the border in Cambridgeshire at Anglesey Abbey Gardens. After Dutch Elm Disease hit the estate, more than 4,000 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 been dumped there too. In total, 15 varieties of snowdrop were discovered including one much admired by visitors, galanthus elwesii or 'Lode Star'.
RHS Silver-Gilt medal winner Philippa Pearson is a garden designer and professional horticulturalist. Call 01767 651253 or email Philippa at firstname.lastname@example.org
Where to see snowdrops Across the county
Many gardens across Essex have special opening times to view snowdrops.
Admission charges apply at some venues.
February 8, 15 and 22 from 11am to 4pm
View the many varieties of snowdrops planted in the grounds during the early 1900s. Budding photographers can capture the snowdrops in all their glory and prizes are awarded for the best three adult photographers and for the best young photographers. Admission includes a free glass of mulled wine.
Enjoy two acres of woodland in bloom with snowdrops in these historical gardens. Planted in Victorian times, visitors can also stroll around the remaining 23-acre garden. The gardens are open from noon to dusk (last entry 3pm) for around four weeks, depending on weather conditions, so call the office for further details before visiting. Also, on January 28, Wol Staines is talking about Notable Snowdrops and Plant Associations at Dunmow Arts Centre for the Easton Lodge Garden Fund.
Green Island Gardens
View masses of snowdrops in 20 acres of garden. There are also good displays of unusual winter-scented flowering shrubs. Open daily throughout February, except Mondays and Saturdays, from 10am to 5pm
The Gibberd Garden
A Winter Garden
Open February 8 and 15
from 11.30am to 3.30pm
Take the chance to appreciate snowdrops within this striking garden this winter. The Barn Tea Rooms serve homemade soups, afternoon tea and other refreshments.
Across the border
Open from January 15 to February 24 (closed on Mondays). For more details
call the Snowdrop Line, which is updated weekly, on 01223 810080