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Hope Springs EternalCreated by Verity in Being You, Home and Garden
They’re up, treatment and flowering happily! Winter aconites are one of the season’s wonders. We tend to think of snowdrops as the earliest of flowers, but actually modest little Eranthis hyemalis beats them to it most years. Perhaps they’re not much lauded because they do their stuff in the dead of winter when our attention is more on thick socks, fleeces and hot water bottles.
But unseen, and prompted by goodness knows what, this curious little person reverses out of the ground stalk first. Then it unfurls its cheery buttercup-like flowers surrounded by a ruff of green. A native of southern Europe where the winters are milder, it’s surprising that the plant is unfazed by our harsher season, but it doesn’t seem to care, and if happy will seed into a decent-sized colony.
I once viewed a house in the depths of winter, and was beguiled by the sheet of golden winter aconites outside the kitchen window. We didn’t buy the property, but it did inspire me to plant some when we came to our present place. Trouble is they aren’t easy to get going. If you buy dry corms they’re likely never to recover. And growing from seed, always supposing you can get hold of some, is uncertain too. Best to buy them in the green, like snowdrops, or better still beg some in flower from someone who has a large colony, and hope they seed themselves. Even then, they are obstinate little things, spreading only when they feel like it. Unfortunately mine are of a rebellious frame of mind, and it’s doubtful they’ll ever achieve the golden spread that I so envied.
Flowers, in cold old February are a wonderful sign that nature is resurgent and spring is on its way. So how much must soldiers in the Crimean war have welcomed the sight of snowdrops after taking part in the 1854 siege of Sebastopol and suffering the horrors of a Russian winter. The Crimean snowdrop, Galanthus plicatus, is larger than our G. nivalis, but it reminded the war-weary soldiers of Britain and family. One officer, Captain Adlington, dug up a clump and sent it back to his Norfolk home, where it thrived, and bulbs of it were given away, in due course making quite a colony in the Warham garden of a cowherd’s wife, one Mrs Buttle. In 1916 the rector there, who happened to be a snowdrop enthusiast, sent bulbs of it to E. A. Bowles, doyen of the contemporary gardening world, and the Warham Snowdrop soon became famous among galanthophiles.
Galanthophilia is a serious affliction, making sufferers fall on hands and knees in damp earth to exclaim over a single flower with slight variation in its markings. And there are over 350 forms and varieties of snowdrops to coo over. Can’t say I’ve ever understood the fascination myself, but then just getting ordinary snowdrops to grow in my parched patch was a challenge.
After three decades of failure, I concluded my garden was simply too dry for snowdrops, fancy or not. But five years ago someone gave me a clump dug from their garden, just ordinary single flowered ones, and I split them up and planted them in different places with no optimism they would do any better. How wrong can you be? These newcomers have a zest for life that has had them flourishing and quickly forming into huge clumps, which in turn can be divided. The garden will have a wonderful drift of them before long.
So now I appreciate that not all snowdrops are the same. And hope springs eternal, in more ways than one.
© Alex Pankhurst