The days are growing longer. The nights are shorter. Yay! Despite the bitter temperatures and snow falling outside my window as I write this spring is inexorably on her way.
It will soon be time to look for the harbingers of warmer weather, especially the hybrid witch hazels and the snowdrops. Witch hazels such as “Jelena” and “Arnold Promise” bloom in the dead of winter, their bright yellow or orange thread-like blossoms casting intriguing fragrance about the yard and garden. Site these large shrubs at the edge of the woodland. Give them decent soil and adequate moisture and they’ll be a standout in the understory for decades.
Tiny, delicate snowdrops on the other hand need to be placed close to a doorway, where they can be admired. Give them neutral, rich soil with good drainage and perhaps tuck them into a protected corner for earliest bloom. They also look attractive in a woodland setting and will grow well in the humus there. For best bloom be sure they receive enough sunlight.
The hardy bulbs are originally from Europe and Asia Minor, and produce signature pure white, foot- tall, honey-scented flowers with a scalloped green edge. Plant them in the autumn, 3 inches deep and 3 inches apart, in groups of at least twenty. They’ll welcome good soil in either sun or shade. And as with all bulbs, let the foliage wither away. Do not cut, bind, wrap, or torture in any manner. Some snowdrops, such as “Sam Arnot” are fragrant, but all are elegant and easy.
There are two ways to get started with snowdrops. Purchase the bulbs in autumn and plant as you would any hardy bulb, or beg a clump in full bloom from a gardening pal. Yes, unlike most bulbs, they are best transplanted in full bloom.
Try to plant in drifts. A tiny dab of snowdrops lies somewhere between unnoticeable and nonexistent. It won’t make much of an impression, and impression is what a gardener needs in the depths of winter. After the leaves wither, mark the spot where the beauties grew. You don’t want to make the mistake of slicing into or upending them while gardening later in the season.
Believe it or not, there are 1,000 different types of cultivated snowdrops, though most of us dirt gardeners grow only the common form, Galanthus nivalis. One intriguing type is the Sochi snowdrop, so called because early in the 20th century it was discovered in the mountains and forests above Sochi, Russia where the 2014 Winter Olympics are soon to convene. This Russian snowdrop is known for its ability to thrive in a multitude of conditions, from rocky slopes to riverbanks, from deep in deciduous forests or tucked in among evergreen conifers. It boasts leaves of glossy green, as opposed to the green-blue foliage of other snowdrops. Its foliage persists longer than most, creating a lovely but temporary ground cover.
I personally covet the common snowdrop double form, “Flore Pleno”. These little guys produce masses of ruffled emerald-green and white blooms atop sturdy stems. Though they set no seed, they spread rapidly by vegetative means. To my eye the blooms are a bit wider, with a fluffier appearance. Like all snowdrops, they are virtually deer-proof.
Wherever they hail from, whatever their form, there’s nothing humdrum about these elegant little portents of spring. The petite member of the amaryllis family cheers us on when we despair of spring ever materializing in our winter-weary yards.