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Signs of spring

Richard Wilford
7 January 2011
Blog team: 
We are in the depths of winter but there are already signs of spring appearing on the Rock Garden at Kew.

Snowdrops are already flowering on the Rock Garden and one of the first to appear is a clump of Galanthus elwesii planted under an old Japanese maple. This species of snowdrop comes from south-east Europe, Turkey and the Caucasus and was named after the plant collector and traveller Henry Elwes in 1875. It is a strong plant, taller than the common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, and can have one or two green marks on the inner petals.



Galanthus elwesii on Kew's Rock Garden in early January


The marks on the inner petals vary in size and shape and sometimes they join together to make a fish-like shape.


Flower of Galanthus elwesii


Another form of Galanthus elwesii that is also on the Rock Garden is called 'Three Leaves'. Most snowdrops have two leaves, with the flower stem emerging from between them but as you can see in the next photo, Galanthus elwesii 'Three Leaves' has an extra leaf. This plant is also flowering now at Kew Gardens. There are 14 different species and subspecies of snowdrop growing on the Rock Garden and several cultivars, so over the next couple of months there should be plenty to see.



Galanthus elwesii 'Three Leaves' 

Cultivation tips

Most snowdrops like plenty of sunshine, especially in the winter when days are so short, but in the summer they do not like to be too hot and dry, even though they are dormant, so plant them somewhere that has a little dappled shade once the leaves are on the trees or is shaded from the sun for part of the day, and avoid soil that becomes dry and dusty. You can plant the bulbs in the summer, but if they have been sitting on the garden centre shelves for a long time, they can dry out too much and not come up next winter. Buy them as soon as they appear in the shops and plant straight away. Alternatively buy them growing in pots at a spring flower show. This is the best way to find the more unusual forms.


A range of different snowdrops on display at the RHS February flower show in London.


Moving snowdrops 'in the green' means when they are still in growth, after flowering, so you can be sure they haven't dried out too much. However, digging them up before going dormant can damage the roots so it is best to keep them in some soil when moving them. If you are successful you can have a wonderful display once they become established in your garden.

- Richard -


16 February 2011
It gives me hope that spring will come soon. And I am looking forward to visiting Kew in April! Thank you so much. Regards, Gudrun
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14 January 2011
Spring, currently from my location, seems an eternity away. I enjoy seeing the emergence, appreciate the species description and cultivation tips.

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