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…