Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Wonder Of Snowdrops

The Wonder Of Snowdrops

One of the first flowers to emerge in our snow garden at the end of the winter are snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis). Pure white and delicate they are, with wax like single and double flowers. Each cup-shaped blossom has six petals. The outer three are white, and the inner three striped green. Deep in the cup is a small cluster of yellow stamens. The blossoms hang down, so be sure to tip one up so you can observe the charming formation within. If you have a magnifying glass handy, take a really good look. The inner rims of the double flowers are "scrunched" and crinkled pale green.

Plant snowdrop bulbs 3 inches deep and about 3 inches apart and have about eighteen to a square foot. They also do best if allowed to form a good root growth before winter deeply freezes the soil, so set them out at the same time as the eranthis.

Would you like an unlimited supply of ink-blue, 3 inch-tall daisies that sit on a cushion of feathery green fernlike foliage? If so plant the so-called Greek anemone (Anemone blanda atrocoerulea) in your garden in the snow. Set a dozen tuberous roots in a cluster, each 2 inches apart and 3 inches deep.

Early Iris

Add a note of purple with Iris reticulata, 2 to 4 inches high, with utterly enchanting flowers touched with deep orange "fur" along their out curving petals. Stir a bit of lime in the soil under the bulbs before you set them. Plant 3 inches apart and in groups of a dozen. Another early iris is I. danfordiae, the golden-yellow counterpart of I. reticulata; both come at the same time. Danford iris grows but 3 inches high and is a must,

Both these iris bring fragrance to the early garden. A scent akin to that of sweet violets emerges as they unfurl into the first tentative warming days.

Then another tiny flower—glory-of-the-snow, chionodoxa, —comes poking up through snow and ice. The 4 inch stems may bear anywhere from 8 to 15 blossoms, each blossom with curving tiny petals and white centers. There is Chionodoxa luciliae, bright blue, plus the white and pink forms; also C. sardiniensis, gentian blue and huge, with 15 flowers to a stem.

The water lily tulip, Tulipa kaufmanniana, on 6 inch stems, opens out flat to reveal a white interior that shades to yellow at the petal base. When in bud the carmine-salmon-pink ex¬terior is a delight. Since the flowers fold at night and open each day they are constantly changing form. The folded bud is slim and pointed and utterly beautiful. The seed pods are also lovely—such interesting peaked shapes. It is gratifying to see them burst open and spread their seeds abroad. Thus they naturalize and increase from year to year.

The early crocuses—another of the "great eight"—bring white, blue and yellow to the little flower corner. The earliest of all is Crocus susianus— a gold crocus with a brown exterior. C. moesicus, a brilliant golden yellow, follows closely. Crowding along together come C. tomasinianus, pale lavender with a silvery gray exterior, C. seiberi, deep blue with gold in the throat, and C. korolkowi, yellow with a bronze exterior. Plant these in generous groups 3 inches deep and 2 apart. The clumps will spread each year—lending greater gaiety to the small winter garden. Often flowering with the early crocuses is the miniature yellow jonquil—Narcissus jonquilla simplex.

Last of the eight to appear are the scillas: Scilla sibirica, bright blue, S. bifolia, rich dark blue, and S. bifolia alba, pure white. They punctuate the finale of this winter garden. Further south all these plants would probably bloom in February, possibly January.

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