These simple bulbs also known locally as snowflowers, maids of February, white ladies, candlemas bells and even vegetable snow can be found on hedgebanks and in open woodland throughout Britain. If you would like to be on equal terms with your gardener you might even choose the botanical name Galanthus nivalis from the Greek –Gale (milk), anthos (flower) nivalis (snow).
Inexpensive and easy to grow they are good value. Related to daffodils and amaryllis, snowdrops have 3 long outer petals and 3 shorter inner petals. (As always there are exceptions). Snowflakes (Leucojum spp.) by contrast have 6 even length petals.
During the past two decades interest in these harbingers of hope has burgeoned and galanthophile groups have hybridized and cultivated hundreds of different forms.
One of the earliest to flower this year- Galanthus.
Mrs. Macnamara produced its first welcome blooms for New Years Day. The eponymous lady who by chance happened to be the mother in law of Dylan Thomas discovered the bulbs growing in her garden. Hence they acquired the sobriquet The Milkwood Snowdrop. Galanthophiles can be identified as persons of all ages who lie down in the mud or snow during mid winter looking up into the pendant flowers counting the green or yellow spots on the petals. It attracts people with good eyesight, stout boots, a woolly hat and a strong constitution. A superb cohort of stalwart characters. Just a word of warning; if you decide that you qualify make sure that when you lie down in the snow you can get up again. It could be a long cold night.
So there we have it. Next time you see a drift of snowdrops, look at them more closely, appreciate their pristine loveliness, see if they, exceptionally, have 6 long petals (known as poculiforms). Just a few miles N.W. of Newbury at Welford there is a beautiful 2 acre snowdrop woodland and south of Newbury at Foxgrove there exists a worthy collection of species and hybrids.
Snowdrop time is here. They are seen at their best with Cyclamen coum growing beneath witch hazels and in association with the white flowered wonderfully fragrant Sarcococcas (Christmas Box).
To quote David Attenborough “It’s a perfect planet” or in the reassuring words of the legendary Louis Armstrong, “What a wonderful World”.