Looking Back at the Snowdrop Season

Not just looking back, but still enjoying some of the specials in the snowdrop border (above), arriving late to the party, whilst assessing the season as a whole. It has been an odd season, with many more specials than usual pushing their way up in December, some even in November, with commons also making a start before Christmas. Despite this, the commons seemed to take a long time to reach flowering stage and were then over perhaps quicker than usual (see below), whilst the specials seem to have had a long and extended season. Meanwhile, the hellebores that flower alongside them are not yet at their peak.

Some of my established specials have not flowered at all this year and sadly I have also lost well over a dozen different varieties, a risk faced by all of those who enjoy a collection of special snowdrops – although I have never lost as many as this in one season. Reasons will vary, but the majority of my losses this year seemed to be either amongst those planted at around the same time two years ago or in one particular part of the border.

For some years now I have started new bulbs off in a deep 9cm ‘snowdrop pot’, sunk into the border, before planting them directly in the ground once well-established. At first I put off the planting out as long as possible, but knowing that snowdrops like to be divided every 3 years or so I am getting braver about it – although I still like the sense of security of them being in pots, better protected and easier to find when not in growth! Anyway, it may be that the potting mix (usually a mix of soil-based, perlite and leaf mould) I used for planting new bulbs two years ago was somehow not satisfactory, and certainly on emptying the pots the remaining mixture was more clay-ey than I would have expected – no way to be sure that was the reason though. The geographical possibility for failure, however,  was more clear-cut, as I found a pot buried under two or three inches of soil in the border, complete with struggling bulb, plus another little group of bulbs out of their depth in the same part of the border, where I had gradually topped up soil to level it off in recent years; these were resued but others, I suspect, have been buried alive… A lesson learned, it seems, although an annual mulch with leafmould will ideally still be part of ongoing maintenance.

Other annual tasks will include the thinning of congested clumps, with ‘spare’ bulbs exchanged, gifted or sometimes sold on eBay. With a large collection I am now realising that relatively close planting can bring issues of seeding amongst other clumps, and cross-pollination of varieties – not necessarily problems, but certainly identification issues. Sometimes I will push developing seedheads down into the soil in the midst of a clump, and sometimes nip them off, but my plan for next year is to resist buying new varieties and focus on establishing those I have and exchanging varieties when opportunities arise. Meanwhile, my maps and lists are up-to-date, leaving just the sprinkling of bonemeal on both the special border and in the woodland edge, where the natives are, as an outstanding task – whilst continuing to spread the latter around!

Why not enjoy a final glance over my shoulder at some of the later flowering varieties? Clockwise from top left: Phillipe André Meyer, the huge but slightly past it Fieldgate Forte, Green Man and the not-always-evident hints of yellow on Lady Elphinstone…

This entry was posted in bulbs, corms and tubers, Gardening, Gardens, snowdrops. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Looking Back at the Snowdrop Season

  1. Ian Lumsden says:

    Losses are part of gardening but hard to take. I look back at my blog about snowdrops I once had and… I have a list of those I’d like to retrieve and it’s gradually reducing. Still I have others that have increased. And the days are lengthening.

    • Cathy says:

      Somehow it feels more personal than losing any other sort of plant, probably because I am more intimately involved with my snowdrops! I have stopped trying to replace each loss though, but there will always be a few that I wouldn’t want to be without. Overall though, my success rate with newer purchases is now pretty good and there have been few losses amongst those planted in the last 18 months. And yes, the days are lengthening and the rest of the garden is waking up!

      • Ian Lumsden says:

        I did discover one I believed I’d lost, the delectable ‘Flocon de Neige’, in the border a couple of weeks ago. No idea how but I do forget. I’ve put a label there for next year.

  2. Brian Skeys says:

    What a mystery gardening and nature can be. You wouldn’t think depth of planting would be a problem because in the natural world leaves would fall over them every year. Chris Beardshaw said in a talk it did not matter what depth you plant a bulb they will find their correct depth. Could planting them in pots prevent them from naturally doing that?
    Could it be mice or Voles eating the bulbs?
    I find the small spring iris impossible to keep from one year to the next. The one thing you can be sure of Cathy is the more expensive the bulb/plant is the more likely it is to vanish!

    • Cathy says:

      I suppose the smaller the bulb, the harder it is to reach the surface when planted deeply – but, as you rightly say, in the wild leaf litter would gradually build up on top of them. Whether they could still push their way up in pots is an interesting question…Although a little disappointed I am fairly philosophical about the losses though – and it keeps me on my toes! Several people have mentioned depth as important for the little iris though…

  3. Pauline says:

    To lose over a dozen specials is devastating, in the 30 yrs I have been growing snowdrops I have only lost about half a dozen and that was bad enough!! We both treat our specials very differently, but I would imagine our soil is different so I don’t really know what to suggest.What do you have in your snowdrop borders in the summer, I seem to recall some other plants there in previous years?

    • Cathy says:

      You are very lucky to have lost so few in that time, Pauline, and as you grow all yours (I think) in woodland conditions that is an interesting statistic. The vast majority of my losses admittedly have been amongst relatively recent and not yet well-established purchases, but there have been a few complete clumps. Do you put any new purchases of single bulbs straight into your woodland? And yes, I now add annuals for summer interest, although they would rarely be watered

      • Pauline says:

        You’re right, non of mine are kept in pots. When they first arrive bare rooted from the nursery, I pot them up until they form a good root ball, then they are planted into the woodland as soon as I see roots coming out of the bottom of the pots, which doesn’t take long. I’m wondering if digging between your snowdrops with your summer bedding could be disturbing them and of course they want to be dry in the summer so no watering, I leave that to nature and so many tree roots makes sure they stay nice and dry.

        • Cathy says:

          I did wonder about these issues, Pauline, and if all of mine struggled it would be a different matter – but I do have a sizeable number of varieties and the vast majority of them are thriving. Will it still be their first season that your newbies are planted out? Yours are clearly very happy in the woodland, but of course all my commons are very settled where they are too. I could, I suppose replant my specials in the woodland itself, and use their existing border for something else…now there’s the germ of an idea!! 😉

  4. Anna says:

    I love reading your snowdrop thoughts Cathy 😄 I think that some losses are inevitable but it is still upsetting when it happens and there is rarely an obvious reason. I have only bought one snowdrop this year so far! I still have a few of them on my wish list but most of them are too expensive at the moment for my budget 😢 I’m trying to stick with ‘drops from now on that are distinctive and vigorous. I’ve found that Philippe André Meyer is excellent in the department. Have you got ‘Fieldgate Superb’. That’s another excellent snowdrop. I have lots of splitting of clumps to do but waiting for it to become a lot less chilly and windy out there. Looks as if next week could be be more promising.

    • Cathy says:

      I am philosophical about my losses these days, Anna, and have honed my ‘snowdrop management’ over the years. Like you, I no longer make ‘expensive’ purchases, and those I bought this year were almost all reputed to be good do-ers. Some seem to establish and bulk up really quickly but others, like Cowhouse Green, seem to take ages – I bought mine in 2014 but it is only now I would class it as ‘established’. I haven’t got F Superb but I think it is one you mentioned to be before – are all the Fieldgate ones huge, I wonder, as F Prelude is also pretty big?

  5. Noelle M says:

    I too have found your ‘article’ on your snowdrops interesting. What depth would you say is the optimum in your soil? My ordinaries have not done too well this year, and maybe as well as lifting and repositioning, I ought to consider planting them less deep. A couple of my specials which disappeared last year have put on a late growth so there may be a viable bulb bulking up ready to flower next year. I will mark them, and maybe lift and plant a little bit higher with some nice lighter matrix around it. I’ll be back to read your recommendations.

    • Cathy says:

      ‘They’ say about 4″, Noelle. I am very rough and ready with my ordinaries, just digging out clumps, pulling them apart and shoving them in holes with very little thought and they don’t seem fussed. Their conditions here are very different though. This is the first year any of my specials other than the odd single bulb have not flowered, so that’s presumably weather-related. Are your specials not marked as a matter of course? I would have thought that was a bit risky! Will probably add an addendum in due course with further thoughts

  6. Cathy this season has been very strange in the flowering of the snowdrops, both native and special from what you say and we have been able to see it on your blogs. Now you still enjoy the flowering of special bluebells, even if it is late. I am so sorry that you have lost several snowdrop specialties and others have not bloomed. Losing them can be due to many factors: I have never grown special snowdrops, so I can’t help you, although it would be a pleasure to do so. Take heart Cathy. Stay with them because they are divine; Of the four photos you have posted, I don’t know which one to keep, I all love them and they are magnificent and very special. Enjoy them Cathy. Take good care of yourself and the golfer, and keep yourself safe. Have a good weekend. Very affectionate greetings from Margarita.

Comments are closed.