April 23

Propagating Snowdrops

Knowing rain was forecast, I spent a couple of hours dividing snowdrops. It is a satisfying occupation, digging up a modest clump and gently teasing the bulbs apart, then replanting each bulb separately with a handful of compost if you have it at hand. Next spring those single bulbs will have multiplied into nice clumps and soon you will have a drift! Snowdrops are best divided “in the green,” that is, when they are actively growing, and I like to do it now, just after their blooms have faded but before the plants go dormant, while I still remember what they looked like and where I want to plant them.  Hitch Lyman, who has a vast collection of snowdrops and sells many of the different sorts mail-order from his Temple Nursery in Ithaca, New York, says these earliest of bulbs love a north-facing slope. At Duck Hill all the land slopes to the south and east, but clumps and small drifts of snowdrops seem happy enough along our woodland walk, and at the foot of our kitchen terrace wall. We have the common sort, Galanthus nivalis and its double-flowering form, G. nivalis ‘flore pleno’, both best for naturalizing, as well as a few fancy ones–among them the large and showy ‘S. Arnott’, an early little sort called ‘Tiny’ and, my favorite, ‘Lady Elphinstone’ with typical satin white outer segments but inside multiple layers of yellow-edged white petticoats. One Lady in Hitch’s catalog is $35, a huge price to pay for a tiny bulb. But one bulb soon expands into a clump of bulbs, and by lifting and dividing an established clump every other year or so, you can soon have many fancy crinolined ladies in your garden.

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