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Another of those hodgepodge names, the scientific name Galanthus comes from Greek for milk flower, nivalis from Latin, pertaining to snow. In the somewhat prissy language of flowers, snowdrops symbolise purity and hope but a few superstitions regard it as unlucky. Lots of legends link it to the tears of Eve, angel ichor or other cheerful stuff but it’s one of the first blooms of the year and is thus regarded, rightly, as plucky. There are umpteen diverse types available but this is one plant that I’m not picky about. Anything that does the business four inches above the still icy earth, will not see me rolling around on the floor to better admire what makes it different. The doubles do add a dimension of texture but are not as tough as the common variety. The yellow snowdrop looks as if someone has peed on it.
Galanthus nivalis (snowdrop)

Galanthus nivalis (snowdrop)

I like to see the plants in drifts; one lone snowdrop looks sad and needs a number of chums to make a statement. Enjoy them while they are performing, then lay plans for moving them about like a slum landlord with his hapless tenants. Bulbs are prone to drying out and are best planted “in the green”, when some leaves are visible. If you must buy them bare in packets put them in immediately, before they shrivel like raisins, prunes or toes left in a bath overlong. After blooming, gently split clumps and spread them out at the same depth as they were before you molested them, in ground that doesn’t dry completely. This is a woodland species, so aim for similar conditions to ensure best success. Remember that leaf mould festering in bin bags behind the shed? This is the ideal time to break it out and butter it around to improve the moisture retention of the soil.
Helleborus double black
Helleborus double black

I have seen some iron willed gardeners who take individual bulbs and cut them into segments from top to bottom. The idea is to make four to six wedges, each with a tiny piece of basal plate. The pieces are potted up, kept warm, moist and nurtured and should each make a new plant. Watch out for any invasion of mould, which will see off the entire cutting before you can think of an appropriate swear word. This is not a technique that I have tried myself; when I posited the possibility to Attila, he suggested putting a handful of bulbs in a blender but we’re not preparing soup here and I fear that he’s missed the point.
Helleborus double green
Helleborus double green

For some years I have been distributing snowdrops around the skirts of my extensive collection of hellebores. They share similar cultivation requirements, dazzle together at the same time and make a delicious contrast in leaf and flower form. I’ve just been outside in the bitter cold, inspecting them both in the search for inspiration and have returned with frozen fingers but warm inside from smug delight. I won’t need brandy until lunch time.

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