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Snowdrop secrets by Neil Miller, Hever Castle head gardener

By Neil Miller

Snowdrops are among the most delicate flowers we gardeners have the privilege to tend. Their tiny white heads bob kindly at us in late winter reminding us to take heart and that spring is just around the corner.

You may be forgiven for thinking a snowdrop is just a snowdrop - but, my friend, there are many variations, scents and sizes in the ‘galanthus’ family.

Snowdrop nuts will travel for their galanthus hit. I bumped into lots of galanthophiles at Great Comp Garden’s recent Snowdrop Sensation in Wrotham Heath.

Hail the snowdrop, the pint-sized dazzler of late winter
Hail the snowdrop, the pint-sized dazzler of late winter

One of the most famous snowdrop fans is garden writer Val Bourne; a woman with an encyclopaedic knowledge of spring bulbs. Val gave a talk at the event and her passion for these tiny white bulbs was infectious.

I virtually skipped out of the lecture hall and bought a handful of unusual bulbs - I did manage to stop myself from shelling out £300 though for Galanthus plicates ‘Golden Fleece’ which sat seductively bobbing its head at me!

Every year at Hever I grow snowdrops from ‘green’ - that is I don’t buy them as bulbs, I buy them in as plants. We have over 70,000 of them in the grounds now - we have single and double varieties and some special ones such as Galanthus magnet, Galanthus Viridapice and Galanthus Picatus warham.

Galanthus plicates ‘Golden Fleece’ looked a snip at £300!
Galanthus plicates ‘Golden Fleece’ looked a snip at £300!

I like Wendy’s Gold. This particular bulb has an interesting back-story; most of the original stock of this golden snowdrop was lost after it was first discovered in the 1980s.

However, a couple of the bulbs were given to nurserymen who were able to ensure the survival of this fab snowdrop which has a yellow hue.

Snowdrops are the most stunning of late-winter flowers
Snowdrops are the most stunning of late-winter flowers

How to plant snowdrops from green

Snowdrops enjoy cool, moist areas of the garden. They like soil that’s rich in humus or leaf mould. They also enjoy a home under deciduous trees or shrubs. You might like to try growing them among perennials and ornamental grasses too.

It’s important to dig a hole that’s deep enough - 4 - 6” and loosen the soil beneath this. Firm the soil around the plant and water lightly. If you are planting more than one clump then leave 4” in between and they will clump up in time.

Hever Castle at it's stunning best earlier this month
Hever Castle at it's stunning best earlier this month

Here's my guide to the best varieties to opt for...

Galanthus plicatus - 'Wendy's Gold': This snowdrop has white flowers with a yellow-green ovary and a long yellow-green mark along the inner petals.

Galanthus elwesii - 'Abington Green': This snowdrop performs well and increases. It has broad pure white outer petals while the inside petals are marked with green.

Galanthus plicatus - 'Augustus': This snowdrop was named by plantswoman Amy Doncaster for Edward Augustus Bowles - a huge name in the snowdrop world. The plant has broad leaves and multiplies well.

Galanthus - 'Cordelia': We love a ‘double’ at Hever - this double was hybridised in the 1940s and its neat petals are marked with an inverted ‘v’ shape.

Galanthus - 'Primrose Warburg': This is another of the yellow varieties that have become very popular of late. The plant was named after the great galanthophile Primrose Warburg after it was discovered in her garden.

Find time to explore the gardens at Hever, whatever the weather
Find time to explore the gardens at Hever, whatever the weather

Find out more about Hever Castle here

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