SNOWDROPS: January's treasure is pristine and full of potential
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SNOWDROPS: January's treasure is pristine and full of potential

JANUARY remains still and spare and solitary.

It is white, pristine, and full of potential.

If you look at the upcoming February, you will find its penury stricken in many respects lacking daylight, temperature, bank holidays, even number of days.

It begins in winter and ends in spring, but it is higher in expectation and during mild spells one can sometimes notice new life and a new greening.

These can be rather beggarly, and gardeners should remain vigilant for winter bites back time and time again to strafe and pummel the land and its content.

However, these incursions and forays are simply the actions of an antagonist losing ground.

Victory and triumph are on the horizon I feel, and the trailers are showing now in the form of snowdrops, crocus, and the earliest reticulata iris in gardens everywhere.

Even the troops of new gardeners have now come to appreciate these elegant bulbs which begin their dance in the spotlight during the colder, darker months of the year.

The battalions are led by the dainties and most charming of all, the snowdrop.

A true galanthophile (a collector of snowdrops) will search for every available species, most of which flowers from January through to March.

Individual bulbs, those classed as rare and unusual, can change hands for hundreds of euro, especially for species such as Galanthus reginae-olgae, which flower as early as October, and G. platyphyllus, which delays its performance until April.

To most of us however, snowdrops are snowdrops, and one looks the same as the next.

And yet all will be found happy when grown in shady woodland conditions - exactly the kind of conditions enjoyed by hellebores and those great stand-by foliage plants, Pulmonarias. Manure I fear is not recommended - indeed some growers say it’s positively harmful.

Personally, I use garden compost mixed with leaf-mold spread as a mulch, and when planting I incorporate the same into the area in question.

A boost to growth during early January using pelleted fish, blood, and bonemeal pays handsome results.

It sounds like a horrible concoction, but this fully organic medium is pleasant to handle, has no offensive odour, and is packaged in substantial 12kg tubs.

I can recommend its use throughout the entire year.

Suffering few pests or disease, snowdrops are maintenance free in the main and easily increased by clump division after flowering.

Botrytis, a fungal disorder is the only malady likely to spread among stocks.

It manifests itself as a white mold at the base of the leaves, but it can be prevented by spraying with any garden fungicide.

When good drainage is provided, the incidence of this debilitating disease is rare.