Colesbourne Park

'England's Greatest Snowdrop Garden'

How many sorts of snowdrops are there?

There are 19 wild species in the genus
Galanthus, found from Spain to the Caucasus. Most are found in Turkey. Gardeners have selected over 1000 distinct cultivars, with the number increasing every year. We grow about 250 different snowdrops at Colesbourne Park.

How do I tell different snowdrops apart?

You need to look carefully at the markings in the flower and at the arrangement of the leaves, and sometimes at the leaf colour. There are four commonly grown species, which may be identified as follows:

Galanthus nivalis: leaves narrow, with their edges parallel to each other (applanate); flowers with a single green V mark on the inner segment. This is the common snowdrop, also often with double flowers. An excellent garden plant

Galanthus plicatus: leaves broader, with their edges folded back below the blade (explicative); flowers with one or sometimes two markings. Sometimes found in older gardens. Galanthus plicatus 'Colossus' (left).

Galanthus elwesii: leaves often broad, often greyish in colour, with the outer leaf wrapped round the inner one of the pair (supervolute); flowers with two marks (var. elwesii) or one mark (var. monostictus). Commonly grown from imported bulbs. Variable in size; giant snowdrops are often this species.

Galanthus woronowii: leaves often broad, wrapped around each other, glossy deep green; flowers often rather small, with a single V-shaped mark. Currently being imported in large numbers from the wild.

Identifying hybrids and oddities becomes more difficult; see the book
Snowdrops for more information.

When should I divide my snowdrops?

Snowdrops are traditionally lifted and divided 'in the green', while growing in spring, but this is not ideal and can be damaging if care is not taken. At Colesbourne we do not move snowdrops in growth, only as dormant bulbs, when they take no harm, and in our experience this is very much more successful. Mark the plants when in growth and as the foliage yellows in late April or May, or when they are dormant in June and July, lift and split the clumps into their component bulbs and replant as soon as possible. They can be stored for a few weks in a cool dry shed, but do not allow the bulbs to become desiccated by exposure to strong sunshine or heat.

When lifted in growth the roots are inevitably damaged with consequences for the plant’s development. It is essential to ensure that replanted snowdrops are given extra water to compensate. If this is not done the bulbs will often diminish in size and take a year or two to return to full strength.

How often should I divide my snowdrops?

For maximum increase, snowdrops should be lifted and divided every few years, but for ordinary garden purposes this prevents the development of attractive clumps. Every three or four years is ideal.

What conditions do snowdrops like?

Snowdrops are very tolerant, but do not like very acid soils, and the ground should be well drained. In clay soils extra humus and grit should be added. Snowdrops can be grown in most situations, from sun to considerable shade, but in general, light dappled shade is most suitable. It is important that the leaves are fully exposed to the sun throughout the growing season, and not shaded by coarser plants.

How long do snowdrops flower for?

Most snowdrops flower from early February to early March, reliably every year. The earliest to flower is
Galanthus reginae-olgae, from Greece, which can start in early September but continues into December, overlapping with the earliest selections of G. elwesii.  In the wild some of the alpine Caucasian species (e.g. G. krasnovii, G. platyphyllus) may not flower until June or July, when the snow melts. At Colesbourne we usually have snowdrops in flower from late September to early April, but the peak season is always in mid-February.

I've got a giant snowdrop in my garden…

It is probably Galanthus elwesii. Check if it has greyish leaves that are wrapped round each other at the base. If it has green leaves and tall stems bearing more than one flower it might be a Leucojum. Galanthus elwesii 'Comet' (left).

What's the difference between a snowdrop and a snowflake?

Snowdrops, members of the genus Galanthus, have two distinct whorls of corolla segments ("petals"), arranged so that the three outer segments are large and usually unmarked, while the three inner segments are smaller and form a tube in the centre of the flower. They usually bear green markings at their tips and sometimes at the base as well. Snowflakes, members of the genus Leucojum, have six corolla segments of equal length, each tipped with green or yellowish-green. Their leaves are also usually glossy bright green, and the plants look much bigger than a snowdrop. The spring snowflake is Leucojum vernum (below), and the summer snowflake, or Loddon lily, is L. aestivum.

How do I grow hellebores from seed?

The secret is to understand the conditions the seeds need before germination can take place. The seeds will soon lose viability if stored in dry conditions, so they should be sown as soon as possible after harvest, using pots or trays of well-drained gritty compost. Top-dress these with coarse grit. The seed needs a warm period followed by a cold period to germinate; this is achieved in the normal seasonal cycle of summer and winter, so it is best to leave the tray outside in a safe corner. Germination will start in about December, when it is best to bring the tray into a greenhouse or frame to keep the seedlings a little drier and warmer. Transplant the seedlings into small pots when they have a couple of leaves, and repot when the roots begin to fill the pot. Feed well throughout the growing season with a well-balanced fertiliser. It will take about three years for the plants to be big enough to flower; you can either grow them in pots or use a nursery row. Select the best and plant them in their permanent positions in the garden; August is a good time of year to do this as the roots are active in warm soil.

How do I get winter aconites established?

Winter aconites, Eranthis hyemalis (left), re tuberous plants in the buttercup family. The tubers do not like to be dried out and so they are very difficult to get going from bought dried tubers in summer. The best option is to obtain growing plants in spring or grow them from freshly harvested seed (which loses its viability quickly if dried out).

My daffodils don't flower…

They may not be planted deeply enough, meaning that they become short of water after flowering, or they have become congested in the clump and are short of nutrients. In either case, lift the clump as it goes dormant in early summer, split the bulbs apart and replant at about 6" (15 cm) depth. Liquid feeding of established clumps is a good idea. Daffodils enjoy rich, moist meadow soil in the wild and this is what you should attempt to provide in the garden.

How soon can I cut the grass after bulbs have flowered?

Experiments have shown that the very minimum time is six weeks after flowering for daffodils, but two months or longer is preferable, to allow the bulbs to develop to maximum size. After cutting the hay should be removed.