Snowdrops guide: facts, how to grow and the best walks around the UK

Snowdrops are a striking bloom in the winter months when little else is growing and a walk through a blanket of snowdrops is a seasonal pleasure. Here is our guide to the best snowdrop walks in the UK and how to grow your own.

12th January 2018
Snowdrops

SNOWDROP FACTS AND HOW TO IDENTIFY 

Snowdrops flower between January and March, often appearing en masse and creating a characteristic ‘white blanket’ coverage. The species has long been associated with winter – the latin name, Galanthus nivalis, literally translates as ‘milk flower of the snow’. They thrive in lightly shaded woodland areas and can be found all around the UK.

The white flowers hang from a single stem with three inner petals (called tepals) curved into a tight pointed oval and three external petals loosely opening outwards. These flower heads can be ‘single’ – one layer of petals – or ‘double’ – multiple layers of petals – headed. The grassy foliage is a vibrant light green.

There are more than 2,500 varieties and, although not a native species, they are now well established in the wild in the UK.

In British folklore; snowdrops have come to symbolize hope and purity. In modern medicine a naturally occurring substance within the plant, called galantamine, is used to help treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. However, the bulbs themselves are poisonous, a fact which perhaps lead to the superstition that a single snowdrop bloom in a house represents death.

Snowdrops in woodlands
Snowdrops flourish in British woodlands, making the most of the light before the spring tree foliage appears. Image: Getty

SENSATIONAL SNOWDROP WALKS

Snowdrop Valley, Exmoor, Somerset

Take a stroll in this picture-perfect valley carpeted in snowdrops. No cars allowed – you need to get a bus from the pub car park. Open 27 January to 18 February 2018.

Easton Walled Gardens, Lincolnshire

A fascinating new garden among the bones of an old garden whose house was demolished in the 1950s. Snowdrop Week 17 to 25 February 2018.

Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire

A long walk studded with stems of every colour, gloriously barked trees and, of course, lots of snowdrops. Gardens and abbey open daily.

Cambo Estate, Fife

Cambo holds the National Collection of Galanthus – you can see 350 different kinds.

Snowdrops by a wall
The shelter of a dry stone wall provides a good spot for snowdrops. Image: Getty

Burton Agnes Hall, Yorkshire

Another lovely woodland setting for a great sweep of snowdrops set in the grounds of this fine Elizabethan house. Gardens open daily, Snowdrop Spectacular 4 February to 5 March 2017.

Hopton Hall, Derbyshire

A relatively recent snowdrop garden, which emerged from the overgrowth in the last decade or so – after a lot of chopping and clearing. Snowdrop Walk open 1 February to 4 March 2018.

Hodsock Priory, Nottinghamshire

In snowdrop season there will be talks every day about Hodsock’s rich and varied history. Open daily, 10 February to 4 March 2018. 

Walsingham Abbey, Norfolk

What this collection lacks in exotic varieties it makes up for in romantic abundance. Snowdrop walks daily, 28 January to 5 March 2018.

Chirk Castle, Wrexham

This great castle was built during the reign of Edward I. Here, snowdrops flow out from the formal borders into the surrounding woodlands.

Painswick Rococo Garden, Gloucestershire

In the 1870s, John Atkins propagated a bulb here that was later named Galanthus ‘Atkinsii’ and is viewed by horticulturalists as one of the best varieties. Open daily.

Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire

As well as snowdrops there is a great museum here that traces the history of photography. Grounds open daily.

Pencarrow House, Cornwall

A pioneer among gardens as it is not only home to the first Victorian rock garden but also the first monkey puzzle tree in England. Gardens open on Snowdrop Sundays in February.

Snowdrop bulb
Snowdrop bulbs will clump together over several seasons and then can be divided to produce new plants. Image: Getty

HOW TO GROW SNOWDROPS

When to plant snowdrops

Snowdrops should be planted in spring, when the plants have finished flowering and are still green. Don’t be tempted to trim the leaves off – leaving them to die down naturally will allow the goodness to be absorbed back into the bulb, feeding next year’s buds.

How to plant snowdrop bulbs

Dig holes 10-15cm deep and plant 6-8 bulbs in each hole. Refill the hole and ensure some leaf remains above the surface.

The best soil for snowdrops

Snowdrops are happiest in well-drained soil with light shade. If your soil is heavy use sand or grit to improve drainage. Add leafmould or compost when planting out to help retain moisture during the dry summer months.

How to divide snowdrops

When large clumps of snowdrops have become well-established they can become reluctant to flower – digging up and dividing the bulbs every few years will ensure prolific and annual flowers.

Dig deeply all around the snowdrop clump with a small garden fork, before levering it up and out. Gently tear the bulbs apart and pick off any remaining flowerheads to concentrate energy in the bulbs.

Snowdrops by tree
Snowdrops have naturalised in British woodlands but are not a native species. Image: Getty

GREAT SNOWDROP VARIETIES

‘Lady Beatrix Stanley’

One of the most widely grown snowdrops, this variety forms large clumps with stems up to 15cm/6in tall. The dainty double flowers bloom in February and early March and are faintly edged with green.

‘Magnet’

Single flowers bob and weave in the wind on stems which can grow up to 25cm/10in tall. It is a later flowering variety, blooming in late February and March and produces good-sized, neat flowers.

‘Flore Pleno’

This variety produces large double flowers with layers of petals like a ballerina’s tutu. It has a honeyed scent and flowers in January and February.

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