Plant of the winter months

Snowdrops and Irises

Garden visits are beginning to become a reality as we plan our weekend trips and as January develops into the spring months, Snowdrops will be the most frequently observed flower  in British gardens. Oh yes, there will be gasps as we lean into a well-flowered shrub of Daphne bholua ‘Jaqueline Postill’ or the pungent inflorescense associated with Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’, but a mass planting of snowdrops or better still naturalised in grass is the pinnacle of our garden visit. I have my favourite gardens and vantage points for snowdrops, as indeed will many of my readers. My wife Alison though, has served me a final warning for averting my eyes from the road whilst driving past a wooded glade, amassed with the common snowdrop!

Plant association brings these delightful spring bulbs to life in the artificial garden setting and, as well as the afore-mentioned shrubs, the introduction of attractive trees featuring their bark, such as Betula species, including B. nigra ‘Wakehurst form’ with brown peeling bark and attractive catkins in early spring. I love the vibrant colours attained from carefully pruned or “stooled” specimens of Cornus sanguinea cultivars such as the orange hued C. s. ‘Midwinter Fire’ surrounded by a generous planting of snowdrops, winter aconites, Eranthis hyemalis and the shaggy Crocus tommasinianus.

I would like to feature the rather elusive “yellow snowdrop”, now correctly named Galanthus nivalis Sandersii Group. I make a pilgrimage with trusted friends each year in mid February to study the diverse population of this curious snowdrop in its “locus classicus” in Northumberland. In its chosen habitat of damp, deciduous woodland a fine sight can be enjoyed, with thousands of typically marked snowdrops interspersed with about 1% of aberrant yellow- flowering forms. Perhaps this is a gene that is carried very rarely in this genus similar to the occurrence of double-flowered forms in anemone and hepaticas. There are a number of yellow-flowered forms of snowdrop available in the trade, with a few commanding a high price. Look out for the vigorous G. Nivalis Sandersii Group, G. plicatus ‘Wendy’s Gold or the two hybrids, GG. ‘Spindlestone Surprise’ and ‘Primrose Warburg’. Established clumps of snowdrops should be lifted and divided when the bulbs are dormant or carefully transplanted into fresh soil “in the green”. Great care must be taken with the latter choice, not to allow propagules to dry out after transplanting. Give newly established plants a generous mulch of well-rotted leafmould.

Equally easy of cultivation and worthy of a place in every garden, is the dwarf, bulbous iris, I.’Katharine Hodgkin’. With masses of showy ice-blue coloured flowers this vigorous hybrid combines all the qualities of its now rare parent species, the lemon-yellow Iris winogradowii and blue-flowered I.histrioides. It was the great plantman, Bertram Anderson who raised the hybrid in the 1960s and subsequently named the resulting plant after the wife of his friend Eliot Hodgkin. E.B. Anderson as he was often known, gave some bulbils of this hybrid to my predecessor, (proprietor of Edrom Nurseries) Mr Alex Duguid and he quickly amassed a sizeable stock of bulbs in a large trough. He sold bulbs to Broadleigh Gardens in the late 1970s and I inherited the rest of the stock which, together with bulbs from my competitors, was soon travelling in all directions of the UK. It is now widely grown and generously planted in borders beside snowdrops, Cordalis solida cvs, dwarf narcissus and hepaticas. I choose to lift congested clumps of bulbs during the dormant season (September/October) and divide them up into modest clumps and replant into re-generated soil with the addition of gritty sand and well-rotted leafmould. Take care not to shed the numerous rice grain bulbils as they may re-appear where you least expect them in a few years time!

Availability of these winter-flowering bulbs:

Edrom Nurseries –

Pottertons Nursery –

Macplants –

Kevock Garden Plants –