If you live along the east coast of the United States and especially in New England, you are probably ready for spring. As I type, it is a balmy 12 degrees outside. Thankfully, we have had a few weeks without snow and with enough sunlight to begin melting the snow. We even began mulching and adding compost to the plant beds in search of something to do outside in the garden. The ground is still solidly frozen. I know because I went around with a pickax yesterday in search of any spot of softened ground. Unfortunately, the soil is tightly intertwined with ice crystals and does not want to awake from its winter slumber. As I posted on my Instagram yesterday, spring, it is time to get your butt out of bed! We need you!
We do have a few spots where the snow has melted and the soil has warmed enough for the delightful little snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis, to emerge and flower. I know a lot of folks consider the witchhazels the first plants to flower but I consider that status as an asterisk. Yes, witchhazels are pretty but snowdrops give us that broader petaled flower that we so much need after a long winter. Once a few clumps were spotted as flowering, most of our staff at Coastal Maine Botanical Garden took off to see them. There is another patch near our home in East Boothbay that always flowers before anyone else’s. I knew that it had come into flower when friends and neighbors started posting pictures of the clumps in flower on Facebook.
Growing up in North Carolina, I never truly understood the appeal of Galanthus. Because of the mild winter, we always had so many other things to look forward to seeing including camellias. Now that we live in the sub-tundra (depending upon the year), having the little Galanthus waiting for us as soon as the snow melts is a needed welcome. When we lived in North Carolina, I even attended an hour long talk detailing all 19 species of Galanthus and their native habitats. It was interesting and the speaker was fantastic but again, the market was not there with so many other plants outside in flower. This year, if I was a bulb farmer, I would be snapping pictures of snowdrops all over the landscape as well as images of just how brutal this winter has been. Then this fall when everyone is pulling together their bulb orders, I would blast images reminding us of how bad everything was and how welcome the little flowers were.
If you are new to growing snowdrops, plant your bulbs in the fall as the ground starts to cool and before the soil freezes. You can purchase Galanthus bulbs from many different mail-order sources. Be sure to plant the bulbs in an area that is moist yet well drained. Along the edge of a pathway or in a rock garden are ideal spots as they are small plants. If you really want them to flower early, pick a south-facing, warm spot to plant the bulbs. Then smile in the spring when the clumps of white flowers melt away the memories of the white stuff that coated the garden all winter.
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