Plant of the month : January Snowdrops

I’ve decided to feature one plant from my garden every month this year. They’ll be easy-to-grow cottage garden plants, good for bees and other pollinators and often native to the British Isles. This month it’s the humble snowdrop. These beauties are popping up already. I remember them blooming more in February and March in my youth. Symbolic of innocence, purity and hope, they really are the perfect flower for January. When all the excess of Christmas has been cleared away, there’s an innate need to pare back and simplify. In current times it’s also good to reflect that something so delicate can tough out the coldest month of the year, adapt to freezing conditions by drooping their flowerheads down and opening up again when the temperature rises. It’s a lesson for us all.

They’re native European plants, although I think they were introduced to Britain by the Romans – along with ground elder. (I know which I prefer in my garden.) There’s folklore attached to the snowdrop too – formed after the fight between the Winter Witch and Lady Spring, symbolising Spring’s ultimate victory over Winter. The Victorians thought of them as a sign of death however – probably because they grow prolifically in churchyards – that they shouldn’t be cut and brought indoors, believing they brought bad luck to farmers, affecting cow’s milk and discolouring butter. I don’t tend to cut snowdrops for the vase. Maybe it’s the influence of my deep agricultural roots or just a feeling that these flowers are better featured when nodding their heads outdoors.

Plant them in partial shade or full sun, pointy side up in groups of 25, about 3 inches deep. Wear gloves, because the bulbs can irritate skin. I prefer to plant in the green in March, rather than from dry bulbs. When established, allow them to die back (letting the leaves go yellow) before cutting them back. When uber-established you can dig them up and divide them, spreading the love around your garden or giving them away to friends and neighbours. They do well under trees in our garden before the leaves form a canopy.

If you don’t have snowdrops in your garden this year, mark a place where they could go and order some to plant in the green in March. Then this time next year you’ll be watching them poke through the soil, a harbinger that the days are lengthening and spring is on its way.

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