Snowdrops - are the early or are they late?

Snowdrops - are the early or are they late?

Autumn flowering treasures

Some of the earliest (or latest?) snowdrops are Galanthus reginae-olgae. A musky fragrant autumn flowerer. Named after Queen Olga of Greece. 

Galanthus reginae-olgae (Taygetos / Peloponnese)

By Plantarium - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

G. reginae-olgae can flower in April here, but are usually doing their thing in May - June.  Most snowdrops like a woodland setting but these Autumn flowering ones are good for rockeries just like the Greek Peloponnese where it was discovered. The summers are dry. It is therefore less cold hardy than other species. It does well in Canterbury though so it is pretty flexible.


I know I want more in my garden, and I only have a few, so I will collect the seed when the capsules are yellow but drooping toward the earth. The seed is best sown fresh. Use a small but deep pot and sow them a centimetre down with a layer of good course grit on top. If you procure dry seed forma a seedlist they will take longer to germinate. Soak the seed for a few days with a tiny smear of detergent to try to rehydrate. Don't throw out a pot until they have had a winter or two and the growing seasons to match, so for these beauties wait a whole year at the very least. The seedlings are best left in their pot anyway so they can bulk up a bit. Don't attempt any pricking out. The roots if damaged simply die.  Flowers might appear in three to four years.

So if you can, buy bulbs and multiple these up.  Seed is one way but snowdrop bulbs also 'chip' or 'twin scale' well. Information is available online and also in the NZ Alpine Garden Society's next bulletin.  


Galanthophilia or Snowdrop adoration is an increasingly common disease. I have been afflicted in terms of gardening here. I want a natural looking drift. Especially under the oaks on the drive (it is very long) and in my new "Winter Garden". I am 'gretting on' and it was time to go crazy. I have bought 1000's of tiny bulbs from Terrace Station. The indefatigable Kate Foster is an inspiration. Galanthus nivalis, more commonly known as the English Snowdrop, appears in late July in Canterbury and it the one most of us will know. These are the bulbs so cherished by the first immigrants. However this snowdrop is not British herself, her antecendents were brought from Europe at the end of the 16 century. This snowdrop emerges from the cold wet soil with leaves pressed together, like hands in prayer. As they develop there is a distinct midrib on each leaf. The flowers are a typical snowdrop bloom with green, inverted V-shaped markings at the tips of the inner petals.

A few G. nivalis were introduced when Sir John Hall farmed and gardened at Terrace Station, Hororata, when Kate Shepherd was calling for the vote for women (he supported her cause in parliament). Kate has been instrumental in dividing and planting them in the woods. And what a success.  You must visit on their open days and experience it for yourself. This snowdrop is such a good doer. You will not be disappointed if you plant a few bulbs. Before you know it you will have a clump.   

I have also bought many of three varieties from Blue Mountain Nurseries. One of which, is the lovely large G elwesii 'Emerald Hughes' which I note sells for £50 a pop in the UK. Bred by Denis Hughes, the tradition and plant propagtaion are continued by Denis and Chris and family at Tapanui. 

It might look like snow at Larnach Castle, and it wouldn't worry the snowdrops if it was, but these are petals. Even prettier. 


Go to Larnach Castle if you want big drifts of snowdrops used artistically. The Castle’s collection, which dates back 50 years to Margaret Barker’s discovery of snowdrops hidden and almost lost under the scourge of blackberry and seedling trees which had engulfed the grounds. 


Maple Glen, above, so much to see

I also visited Maple Glen, so worth a trip! Their snowdrops cover vast areas, there are thousands and thousands of S. Arnott under shrubs, in fields and woodlands. Maple Glen sell their bulbs dormant at Christmas. Which if you can buy them this way is, I feel, the best.  Of course moving them around is hard if you don't know where they are. If you want to move them 'in the green' wait as long as possible after flowering or get in very early keeping all their roots intact.

 Experts believe there are 20 odd distinct species and many more hybrids, varieties and cultivars, they all have small differences an astute observer will notice; the colour of the leaves, the way they unfurl, their size of foliage or flower and the small pretty green markings on their petals. But from this simple snowdrop lover's point of view it really means that it is possible to have the first varieties flowering in March with a succession of snowdrops flowering in the garden until September.  

Another, G. elwesii is quite different, flowering over a long period depending on variety, the leaves emerge wrapped round each other, a more blueish green and are longer and broader than G. nivalis.  Coming from Greece and Turkey these snowdrops prefer more sun. 

One of the last to flower is G. plicatus, as it emerges from the ground the leaves have a backward fold along both edges.


Another early one, which divides very well  is the double form of G. nivalis, squat and multipetaled, it seems to have a zest for forming new bulbs, perhaps because it is effectively sterile it feels the need to do something constructive with all those sugars, harvested in the weak, early spring sunshine, waiting for an insect to make magic that cannot really happen. One or two original potfuls have formed quite an extensive carpet after 10 years. I think the birds scratching through the mulch have helped spread them too.

If you really get hooked you might want to start collecting from the 1000's of named cultivars and varieties. Inverted green markings? More green, no green and the most unusual yellow instead of green on the ovary and markings. We have a wonderful woman here, Prue Harper, who imports, cossets them though the season change and quarantine process, grows, divides and sells numerous varieties. 

How to grow

A deciduous woodland situation is generally the best, although as stated above the English Snowdrop is the best for these situations. Otherwise a moist position but well drained soil. They relish a light feed of blood and bone or general fertiliser at the start of their growing season and otherwise should be left alone as much as possible. The bulbs divide readily when the leaves begin to die back , but don't leave them out of the soil for too long or let them dry out. One pest is the Narcissus fly which drops eggs into the dying foliage, one or two of which will grow into grubs eating out the inside of the bulb, if not killing it, setting the bulb back several years. Companion planting with other woodland plants probably distracts the flies from their quest.


The bulbs also grow well in alpine troughs, a display of potted plants purchased in bloom and set with moss in a trough or rustic container will grace your home and can be planted out in the garden once the blooms fade.

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