Column: Deborah McMorran is looking forward to snowdrop season
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Columnist Deborah McMorran takes a monthly look at gardening, flowers and the outside world in and around Hertfordshire.
As I write this, there is a thick fog settled outside. It’s virtually impossible to see the garden resting underneath it - but I know that she’s there. The bulbs that have been planted every autumn since I moved in will all be sleeping, just waiting for the soil to get a tiny bit warmer before they start to push their shoots above the ground.
The first of these will be the snowdrops - by the end of this month they should be cropping up all over the garden. They are the happiest sight for me - the sign of spring, of new life, and the pure white of their petals seems so simple, yet so fresh and innocent, that they almost confirm that anything is possible in the coming year.
To me, the garden is like an artist’s palette. As the year progresses, we add more colours to the blank canvas - the beautiful white snowdrops, with just the tiniest hint of green in the base - the basis for all of the stunning colour that will follow.
As the weeks go by, we see more and more colour added - the delicate hues of violet and yellow crocuses, so fragile and small, barely visible above the ground. The tulips and daffodils which follow cementing the full riot of different colours which will follow into the summer. By that point in the year, these days of winter and early spring will be a distant memory, and it will be hard to remember that there were weeks that went by with barely any flowers in the garden at all.
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It is this time of year when it’s easy to neglect the garden - when it’s cold outside, and the idea of staying inside with a warm cup of tea is so much more inviting than the idea of heading outside to tackle the list of jobs which feel like they could be put off until warmer weather... but when the weather is warmer, there will be a dozen more jobs that need doing. Sometimes the most satisfying days in the garden can be spent during the winter - it is on these days that I find the real treasures - the tiny one-off shoots which have come ahead in advance of the rest, the real first signs of life.
The mornings are still dark when we wake up, but with the shortest day now well behind us, it won’t be long before we start to feel the days lengthen and the weather get warmer. There’s no doubt that people feel connected with the changing of the seasons - with many people now able to recognise that they suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD - I can fully understand how the lack of daylight hours and cold weather can have a huge impact on your mental health. Being able to get outside and particularly into the garden can be such a huge boost to serotonin levels and I know it’s something which personally can totally change my attitude towards life!
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This year I am feeling even more connected with the seasons than I would normally be - I’m six months pregnant and our baby is due in the spring. Whilst I know that all of the plants in our garden are just starting to get ready to come out into the light, the new life growing inside me will hopefully be getting ready to make an appearance at around the same time! The long wait for the winter to be over normally feels endless, but this year, waiting for both the spring and the baby to make an appearance, has been far more difficult!
So – whilst I wait for the bulbs to come up, and the baby to arrive, I’ll be passing the time by choosing some beautiful hellebores and snowdrops already in flower. During this long period of waiting, there is no reason why you can’t buy plants from a nursery or garden centre that are already in flower. With snowdrops, we refer to this as “in the green” – and it’s a great way of being able to choose more special varieties.
Although most people will be used to seeing swathes of the most common snowdrop, Galanthus Nivalis, there are so many other varieties available – some of which look very different to the common snowdrop, and provide real interest in the garden in contrast. It’s nice to plant the different varieties in clumps together, so that it’s easier to tell which are the different groups.
Most of the differences can only be truly appreciated close-up, as the detail can be seen in the tiny green pattern on the petals – but true snowdrop fans (or Galanthophiles) can go absolutely potty over the specialist varieties, and some of the bulbs can sell for a small fortune! It’s no wonder that thieves have been known to dig up snowdrops for resale – but removing snowdrops from the wild is of course illegal.
Hellebores are another plant that we can enjoy in flower at this time of year – and choosing them from a local garden centre or nursery can make a much bigger immediate impact than snowdrops. Whilst there are spaces of bare soil in the garden waiting for bulbs to poke through, a nice hellebore can fill a gap, and provide much needed colour whilst the garden is looking slightly forlorn in the coming weeks.
Hellebores are another plant on my list of favourites – the difference in colours that can be chosen are fabulous – and for me, the deep, rich, purples are the best. They also tend to have some fantastic names, evoking wonderful imagery to accompany the stunning display when you upturn the flower heads to discover the pure beauty inside.
Whether you manage to get out in your garden over the coming weeks, or choose to stay inside until the weather gets a little warmer, preferring to look out onto a garden from the warmth of the house – make sure you find some small beauty to enjoy!