Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Snowdrop count

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.

2009   251
2010   311
2011   436
2012   515
2013   552
2014   977

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.

2011   111
2012   52 (how? why?)
2013   209
2014   441

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?

45 comments:

  1. That is strange how the numbers fluctuate. Could you ask a nearby botanical garden? I'd be happy to see one snowdrop or crocus but ours won't be up for another month at least. Thanks for sharing yours.

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    1. Ah but as I said on your blog, you have real winter in New England, Nordic ski-ing and all!

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  2. Oh, my! Such inspiring clusters, but also fascinating to see how unpredictable these charming blooms can be. I've finally, after ever so many years of wishing for them each winter, planting bulbs with little hope every odd fall, finally managed to get them "in the green" last year, and into the ground . . . and up they popped last month, and they bloomed for me. And now I have to resolve to stay here long enough to see them multiply! Meanwhile, I'll check out yours every year from now on -- thanks! ;-)

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    1. Multiplication is definitely helped by the splitting technique. They are so lovely it is worthwhile.

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  3. I agree Elizabeth - they are exquisite and they have a mind of their own, We have quite a lot down the side of our house and also along the sides of the lane. Nothing gives me more pleasure that those pure white early harbingers of Spring.

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    1. I am also knocked out by primroses and love our little native daffodils too. In fact, despite serious attempts to engage properly with autumn, I remain a spring gardener at heart!

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  4. I have to admit, I've never counted snowdrops but I do love the drifts of them even along the hedgerows up the sides of the road. They're just lovely.

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    1. We see quite a lot growing wild up here too, along verges and at the bottom of hedges and sometimes in churchyards.

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  5. Dear Elizabeth,

    I believe I have written this before but I really think you should be writing a book about gardens/gardening. Wow, I'm a little lost for words here. The snowdrop has my unwavering faith - I stopped the car on two occasions to gaze appreciatively at blankets of wild snowdrops in local woodland areas yesterday - although my obssession gravitates towards wild violets. Funnily, in light of this wonderful 'snowdrop counting post of yours', I was outside in the sun this afternoon counting how many violets had reared their heads in our garden this year; certainly numbers are on the up here too!

    It seems as though your snowdrop counting could be the perfect meditation. After all, counting up to thousands must require a lot of focus and what better thing to focus on than such exquisite, brave, and simple flowers?

    Stephanie

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    1. Interesting idea Stephanie. I suppose it is a form of meditation. It is certainly something which requires full attention and yet what you are paying attention to is a perfect flower. You have to keep your focus or you lose where you are, a bit like knitting!

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  6. The snowdrops are beautiful. I love them for the reasons you do; they are such a pure, delicate looking flower but they're tough, too. And it is wonderful to see a spread of them. The yearly comparisons are interesting; I've always thought that I should record exactly when mine begin to flower each year but I haven't thought of counting them. It is useful to see how they're increasing and thriving (or not).

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    1. I must admit that I felt a bit silly the first time I counted but now that I have several years' worth of figures I find them useful and fascinating. Presumably there may come a point when the exercise is just too big to contemplate!

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  7. That really is phenomenal growth. Snowdrops have been established in our garden many years I should think but I haven't seen that much expansion of the clumps. Clearly time I started moving them around!

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    1. Try the six inch test Jessica. If your clumps are bigger than that it is worth splitting them I think.

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  8. They are indeed beauties Elizabeth and must make your heart sing every time you gaze upon them. Somehow unlike you and VP I've never been able to "channel my inner nerd' and count my snowdrops. I have tried but invariably go bog - eyed and lose count :)

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    1. I wouldn't guarantee the count is 100% accurate although I do my best. I am sure that from time to time I miss one or count one twice but it gives me an indication as to what is happening which is pretty accurate I hope.

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  9. Elizabeth, this is such a lovely post. I echo all that Stephanie has already commented.

    Even though I am totally without the possibility of a garden of my own nowadays, your observations and photographs and generosity really let me have the sense of what it might be like around this time of the year as the sunlight lengthens and the earth warms.

    Thank you so very much. xo

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    1. What a lovely comment Frances. I am delighted to be able to share my garden with you. Next time you come to the UK we really must make sure you come and see it, and me!

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    1. Well i am glad you think it is admirable. Other might perhaps think it is a bit sad!

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  11. They bring back memories of mothering sunday as a child when we would pick handfuls and place them in dainty vases to take up with my mother's breakfast tray. There is a large clump in my neighbour's garden which cheers me up every time I look out of my Kitchen window or leave the house

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    1. I love to pick them too. I have a tiny deep blue vase which is perfect for them. Great idea for mothering sunday.

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  12. They are so beautiful, though I feel somewhat inadequate as we planted 100 some years ago and now have about thirty! I blame the ducks :) x

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    1. Tricky one, would I swap my snowdrops for ducks? Probably not but it is a near thing!

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  13. You have me thinking now - we've lived here for 15 years, and in that time, I've never planted snowdrops, and yet every year we have a few clumps pop up, fairly randomly around the garden - there's probably a sensible reason, but I like the idea of fairy gardeners...

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    1. Fairy or squirrel gardeners both sound good to me. Let's face it, squirrels don't do much else to be grateful for!

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  14. I adore snowdrops en masse, and your 'masses' look absolutely wonderful. We didn't have many snowdrops - just a few clumps along the drive - but this year they've failed to appear at all so far, something I find I'm really rather sad about

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    1. I had been thinking this year might be a generally good one for snowdrops but your experience not that far away from me suggests perhaps not. You are very welcome to import some of mine if you like!

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  15. Eek, I haven't counted mine yet! I'm slacking...
    I do love seeing how the count changes from year to year. And this year the clumps in my side garden have hopped over the fence onto the public land, just as I hoped they would. I think I need to do some splitting this year, though I'm also tempted to ask for another 1,000 for my birthday just to help the dream I have in my mind's eye of a massed bank of them.
    I love seeing how we all inspire each other with our blogs :)

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    1. Another thousand! Wow. That sounds like a few busy days to me. Like the idea of yours gently invading public land too.

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  16. Oh, thank you Elizabeth, you have no idea how encouraging that is! I lack the discipline to count my own, but having only just started this garden, and having only a small handful of snowdrops so far, I am immeasurably boosted by the idea that just some time will lead to dramatic increase, and I will also definitely plant more too, just to help things along. I share your love of the look of massed snowdrops, they seem perfect for the time of year they appear. I loathe the brightly coloured primulas that are meant to help you forget that it is winter, I like winter, I want it to be different, and I want the plants the herald the end of winter and the beginning of spring to be subtle. Snowdrops, tommies and native primroses do it for me. May your snowdrops continue to delight and your count continue to increase exponentially!

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    1. Totally with you on brightly coloured primulas Janet! They just don't seem to have anything to do with winter or early spring at all. Just a bright splodge from a child's paintbox. That is not bad in itself but I don't want it in my garden!

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  17. Goodness me Elizabeth, I find it uncanny how so often we are on the same writing wavelength...just yesterday I put together a post on snowdrops! Haven't published it yet - was going to do so in a minute but got distracted writing about something else!

    Loved the pictures in your post. They are so dainty, beautiful and hopeful, aren't they? My main question for you, though, is this: how on earth do you count them??? Makes me feel faint just thinking about that as a task!

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    1. Well theoretically I start at the back of a clump on the left hand side and work my way forwards in strips. I record the size of each clump and they tend to range in size from 15 or so up to about 90. I need to choose a day when no one will interrupt me though! Was going to read your post but can't access your profile. Have you stopped blogging publically? Would like to read it!

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  18. I'm not going to make any nerd comments because (as you know) I count daffodils, but I do have a logistics question: exactly how do you count them? Daffs are easy - you keep a tally as you pick or deadhead - but snowdrops are tiny…

    Love your crocuses - I'm sure they'll spread wildly; mine certainly have. I planted loads more three/four years ago and they disappeared completely, but they are back this year with a vengeance. They seem to like fooling gardeners.

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    1. Well see how I do it above! I wouldn't guarantee it is accurate to the last flower but I try. I hope you are right about the crocuses. I love them.

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  19. Your post, Elizabeth, is discomforting. I can't help thinking of the increase in the snowdrop population you are setting in motion. And all the time at compound interest, as it were. Are you a species of Socerer's Apprentice. Will the snowdrops not be spreading out in waves from the fastnesses of North Wales to engulf us, north south east or west? If the only thing that can save us are slates fallen from the roof then there are going to be an awful lot of roofless houses. My snowdrops don't do this. They each have 2.4 children and survive in little bunches here and there. Maybe it is 2.1 children for I fancy the bunches are getting smaller. In any case I was never really a snowdrop fan, preferring aconites which grow well under chestnuts and are cheerily yellow in spring. I shall keep a good watch anyway in about ten years time which is when I fancy your snowdrops in great armies will come marching south over the Brecon Beacons. I shall be ready with my slates.

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    1. Put your slates away Fennie. An army of snowdrops cannot be a bad thing although it is martial word for something which is more like a gentle wash.

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  20. Could they be persuaded to colonise my garden in Suffolk I wonder. Disappointingly there were none here when we moved although I am working on rectifying that! I garden in deep shade and a cold pocket and they are slow to colonise but I cherish them nonetheless. Patience!

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    1. Have you any areas under deciduous trees? They don't seem to like year round shade but mine are thriving in an area which gets some sun before the hornbeam hedge comes into leaf.

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  21. Ohhhh, wish I hadn't read your post, (though I thoroughly enjoyed it.) It's just that I have been obsessing about a huge clump of snowdrops at the edge of school drive - not even my property! Though I have NO TIME and no right, I'm desperate to colonise other areas of school with these tiny treats.... It's only a matter of time before I ask permission of the land manager...
    We are so sad but they give me such pleasure every morning I feel I need to spread the love.
    [Off to have a word with myself!] xx

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    1. I think that is a great idea (but then I would, wouldn't I?).

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  22. Oh how I wish I had your success with snowdrops. We've managed to increase numbers on a small scale and introduce a few single ones (which I much prefer) but the double Plena Floras do so much better for some reason. I think our usual very dry weather doesn't suit snowdrops well, so the past 18 months wet has boosted them for this Spring. Meanwhile our Primroses are looking fantastic!

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Comments are great. Thank you for taking the time!