Snow white: It's high time you succumbed to snowdrop fever

They cheer up the dreariest of Februarys and there's 200 different varieties to choose from.

The first snowdrop fanatic I ever met was the Reverend Blakeway-Phillips who, round about this time of the year, used to turn up at the Royal Horticultural Society's show in London with a magnificent selection of snowdrops which he arranged in Bovril jars. This was in no way an affectation. The jars were the right size and shape and he rightly thought the dark glass set off the white flowers perfectly.

Recently, we met again at a literary festival where I was speaking and we marvelled at the extraordinary price rare snowdrops can now command – £100 a bulb for some new permutation of green spots on white petals. Blakeway-Phillips though, was way ahead of the game. Ten years before the present mania started, he already had 70 different snowdrops growing in his rectory garden, a collection that represented most of what was around in the snowdrop world at that time.

Now, at least 200 kinds are listed in The Plant Finder (RHS £15.99). More than 40 of these have been introduced within the last year. But February is a chilly month to be down on your hands and knees counting green spots. In the end, how many of these variations are truly distinct? Earliness into flower is certainly useful, as is lateness, because either trait spreads the time available for gardeners to enjoy the gorgeous sight of snowdrops easing open their petals into the sunlight. With us, Galanthus 'Atkinsii' is always the earliest snowdrop to open up, and 'Baxendale's Late' the last.

Flowers can be single or double and although I've always thought single-flowered snowdrops more elegant than doubles, I'm delighted that the double-flowered 'Hill Poe' has settled in our garden. But that's because it was given to us by our neighbour, John Poe, in whose Irish home the flower was first found. His death shortly afterwards makes me doubly glad to have his snowdrop blooming under the hart's tongue ferns on our bank.

Yellow markings (where you more normally find green) are highly prized by snowdrop fanatics and 'Wendy's Gold', first spotted at Wandelbury Ring in the Seventies, is perhaps the best known. 'Ecusson d'Or', discovered by Mark Brown in 2002, has yellow tips to both inner and outer petals. "The Holy Grail of snowdropping," says Alan Street of Avon Bulbs nursery, which is selling the few bulbs they have available at £50 each.

As the number of different snowdrops on offer has increased, so has the number of gardens opening at this time of year to show them off. Some owners, such as Cliff and Joan Curtis of 21 Chapel Street, Hacconby, are collectors, and specialise in the unusual and rare. Others, such as Celia and Dave Hargrave at Trench Hill in Gloucestershire, have planted snowdrops to flower en masse under the trees and shrubs of their three-acre country garden.

Celia Hargrave ordered her first 1,000 snowdrop bulbs the year they moved into their house, and reckons she has planted another 20,000 since. When I wandered round the garden with her in January, their sheathed snouts were already poking through under hedges, in drifts under the beech trees and between vast clumps of pink-flowered Cyclamen coum. Coum-envy is probably not a disease our GP would recognise, but I felt distinctly sick with it, looking at the gorgeously-marked leaves and deep magenta flowers of the Trench Hill cyclamen. I've never seen better ones.

Planting 20,000 snowdrops makes its mark on your knees, but the bulbs evidently love the stoney limestone brash of the Hargraves' garden. In the 18 years since they first arrived, the snowdrops have spread in wonderful thick drifts through spring borders and are now appearing in all kinds of places where Mrs Hargrave never put them.

The house sits on the south-facing side of a hill overlooking the needle-thin spire of Painswick church on the right and the squatter tower of Sheepscombe on the left. From borders of hellebores, ferns and snowdrops made among the beech trees at the top of the slope, the garden runs gently down through drifts of grasses and shrubs planted for their foliage, to end in a big curving pond at the bottom of the plot, where the new growth of two pollarded willows burns as bright as fire against the sky.

From the pond, paths lead into an intricate series of plantings to the side of the house, where early muscari, iris and narcissus, as well as snowdrops, benefit from the shelter of the trees. But anyone suffering as I was from cyclamen- (and snowdrop-) envy should make their way to the working area by the Hargraves' garage and note the seven compost bins ranged against the wall. Every inch of this garden is mulched every year with the Hargraves' own compost. Since they put such a vast amount of effort into their plot, it's scarcely surprising their plants sing out so happily.

The garden at Trench Hill, Sheepscombe, Glos GL6 6TZ is open (11am-5pm) tomorrow and 19 February. For more details, call 01452 814306

Snowdrop gardens to visit

Today Coombegate Cottage, St Ives, Cornwall PL14 3LZ (11am-4pm; admission £3); Penrhyn Castle, Bangor, Gwynedd LL57 4HN (11am-3pm; admission £3)

Tomorrow Sherwood, Newton St Cyres, Exeter, Devon EX5 5BT (2-5pm; admission £4)

Tue 14 Feb Pembury House, Ditchling Rd, Clayton, nr Hassocks, Sussex BN6 9PH (11am-4pm; admission £4)

Thur 16 Feb Cherubeer Gardens, Dolton, Devon EX19 8PP (2-5pm; admission £4)

Sat 18 Feb Lacock Abbey Gardens, Chippenham, Wilts SN15 2LG (11am-4pm; admission £5)

Sun 19 Feb Higher Denham Gardens, Higher Denham, Bucks UB9 5EA (2-4.30pm; admission £4)

Mon 20 Feb Boscombe Village Gardens, Boscombe, Wilts SP4 0AB (11am-4pm; admission £4.50)

Wed 22 Feb Austwick Hall, Town Head Lane, Austwick, nr Settle, Yorks LA2 8BS (12-5pm; admission £3.50)

Thur 23 Feb Little Court, Crawley, nr Winchester, Hants SO21 2PU (2-5.30pm; admission £3)

Sat 25 Feb Pikes Cottage, Madford, Hemyock, Devon EX15 3QZ (1-5pm; admission £3.50)

Sun 26 Feb Magnolia House, Grange Drive Wooburn, Wooburn Green, Bucks HP10 0QD (11am-2pm; admission £3.50)

Wed 29 Feb Yew Tree Cottage, Penshurst, Kent TN11 8AD (12-5pm; admission £2)

For full details of the Scottish Snowdrop Festival (to 18 March) go to

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Property search
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little