Every year I channel my inner nerd and go out and count my snowdrops. When we came here in 2005 there was a sprinkling of snowdrops along one side of the drive. They took me by surprise when they came up in January 2006 when I was recovering from a serious illness and they were the first flowers this garden offered me, having moved into a cold and empty November garden. Regrettably I had no premonition that I would get a bit obsessive about snowdrops so I have no idea how many there were. I would guess at about a hundred. In 2007 and 2008 I planted five hundred more in the green, mainly the common single snowdrop, galanthus nivalis, with a small amount of common doubles. I am not a serious snowdrop fancier, a real galanthophile. I do not collect rare varieties and shiver on my knees in the great snowdrop gardens like Cambo Estate and Hodsock Priory. I have not spent hundreds on a single bulb of great rarity. I am not totally immune. I do sometimes see a snowdrop of such beauty that I am tempted. But what I love is the effect of snowdrops en masse. I love the purity of the flowers and the paradox of their delicate looks and toughness as they flower in the wind and the cold and the snow.
My snowdrops live in three main places: at the bottom of the drive, in the side garden, and in the long bed at the bottom of the field where we planted native trees.
At the bottom of the drive the snowdrops sit at the foot of the walls.
These are naturailsed in grass. Here and there primroses grow too and increasingly the odd crocus.
I planted quite a lot of crocus tommasinianus to naturalise on the other side of the drive, in a different area by the lower gate. Those have not established themselves very well but they do seem to have produced a source of bulbs which are moved about (by squirrels?) and which appear by the drive and in the side garden. And here, for those as nerdy as I am or for anyone else trying to establish a garden with a lot of ground and not a lot of money, is the gradual increase of the snowdrops by the drive:
Left hand side Right hand side
2009 123 175
2010 138 297
2011 290 413
2012 355 306
2013 233 422
2014 395 639
You can see that in six years we have gone from about 300 to just over a thousand here. I haven't bought any new plants since 2008 and in 2011 I did pinch quite a few from the right side to start a new planting by the native trees. I split any clumps which have grown to more than six inches in diameter by taking plants from the outer edge of the clump in groups of seven or so and replanting them where they have more space. A really big clump might get lifted in its entirety and split into five or six smaller clumps. I always do this either while the snowdrops are still in flower (in the white) or before the leaves die back (in the green). I don't find it makes any difference to the success of establishing them whether I split the bulbs in the white or the green and there is advantage in splitting them while they are in flower in that you can more accurately see the impact they make if you are moving into a new area of planting.
Snowdrops do have a mind of their own however. I lost quite a few when slates from the roof were piled against the wall for a few months. They don't like being shut up in darkness. I am also finding that the ones on the right hand side of the drive are considerably happier than the ones on the left. They have less competition perhaps as alkanet has invaded the bottom of the wall on the left hand side. I could try to control the alkanet but if you have ever tried to uproot it you will know that life is too short.
The best snowdrops are in the side garden. Here they are not planted in grass but along the bottom of the wall in the large new flower bed. At this time of year snowdrops and hellebores are all there is to see in this bed. As other things grow up the snowdrops recede into the background.
I think it is a bit damper here which snowdrops prefer and there is no competition from grass. They have really established here and they lift my heart every time I go out to the laundry room or into the field. I have treated these in exactly the same way as the ones on the drive but the growth here has been phenomenal.
Nearly a thousand! Fantastic. I am going to split these in a couple of weeks and move more out into the field on the way to the workshop. I love the way that the snowdrops do their own colonising, as well as being helped along by me. The original planting was along the foot of the wall but little groups of bulbs are appearing further and further away from the sheltering wall and washing up like the edge of a wave into the flower bed. And here too the occasional crocus is throwing up a startling spear of purple.
The most recent groups are down in the long thin bed at the bottom of the field where we planted some native trees soon after we first came. This part of the garden is one of those areas which both delights and frustrates me. At some times of year I think the planting in here is some of the best in the garden. At others the fact that I have still have not got the basic form and shape of the wider area right just makes it look lost and silly, like a lace collar on a bit of rag. That, however, is not the fault of the snowdrops. These are about half and half singles and doubles and are planted with hellebores and hardy geraniums.
The spread of these show how unpredictable snowdrops can be, even when you think you are doing the same thing from year to year.
2012 52 (how? why?)
So there we are. My snowdrop count has gone from 725 across the whole garden in my first count in 2009 to 2693 today. With a bit of splitting and moving over the next few weeks who knows where we will be next year?