Spectacular snowdrops

An amazing range of forms await gardeners willing to seek them out.

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Our fascination with snowdrops goes on unabated with bands of enthusiasts scouring the ground in snowdrop havens throughout January and February.

Their prize is discovering a new variant of this much-loved winter flower, which, in the rarest forms can change hands for hundreds of pounds per bulb. Over many years a mind-boggling range has been introduced. Most are found by accident, others specifically bred or selected, as the snowdrop is a promiscuous soul, easily crossed and setting quantities of viable seed.

Fanciful or descriptive names often accompany each new form. The most garden worthy and vigorous have been propagated, bringing down the price to suit more modest pockets.

You can also grow them in pots of well-drained peat-free compost, so that their qualities can be appreciated up close, and before you know it you’ll be hooked and wanting more. Many of the latest and hotly contested appear on on-line marketing sites such as e-bay, and in the dark days of winter it’s a treat to visit such outlets to see what’s going on. 

Named forms of snowdrops should only be propagated by splitting up clumps of bulbs, ideally when still ‘in the green’, meaning in leaf, after the flowers have just gone over, until late winter, when the foliage is just starting to die back. Lift the bulbs and divide into single bulbs or small clumps, replanting at two bulbs or 50mm (2in) apart. Plant in soil containing plenty of organic matter in semi-shade and water in. The soil should not become exposed to prolonged drought in summer. Mark the position of the bulbs, and cover with fine mesh to help protect the bulbs from mice.

To avoid your collection becoming diluted with hybrid offspring, remove seed pods before they mature. Individual bulbs can be propagated by twin scaling or chipping, which involves severing individual bulbs into chunks, with leaves attached to the base plate, but is a technique that requires some experience.