Persevering with snowdrops: planting in the green

A few years ago there weren’t any snowdrops in my garden. I started by planting some dry bulbs in autumn, but when they failed to emerge the following year I did my research and began to plant snowdrops ‘in the green’ in the hope that one day I would have a dazzling display, the envy of every galanthophile.

I’ve planted a few clumps every year for about 5 years now and, to be honest, it’s still a battle to get them to grow. They certainly haven’t spread into the carpets of snowdrops that I long for.

Carpet of snowdrops in churchyard
The vision: a carpet of snowdrops (but without the headstones)

Although the individual clumps have got bigger.

A decent-sized clump of snowdrops
A decent-sized clump of snowdrops

Drying out

I expect this is because the foundation of my soil is clay. Despite all the organic material I add, it has a tendency to dry out in dry summers – and we’ve certainly had a few dry summers! Unlike daffodils and tulips, snowdrop bulbs do not have a water-retaining skin, so they dry out very quickly. And a dry snowdrop bulb is a dead snowdrop bulb. So, thinking about, I should just be grateful I’ve got any snowdrops after last summer’s soaring temperatures.

But I keep persevering, as nothing else in the garden puts a smile on my face in January and February quite like a bunch of snowdrops does. And I have a few decent clumps dotted around the garden now.

I'll keep planting snowdrops in the green, because every clump that surfaces the following year is so worth it
I’ll keep planting snowdrops in the green, because every clump that surfaces the following year is so worth it

Curbside snowdrops

This week, I handed over another tenner at my local garden centre for 3 more bunches of snowdrops in the green.

You can buy snowdrops in the green from garden centres, or order them online
You can buy snowdrops in the green from garden centres, or order them online

I split each clump down into three smaller clumps…

Planting snowdrops in the green

And dotted them under the hedge along the curbside in the front garden.

Plant snowdrops in the green and water well
Plant snowdrops in the green and water well

They’ve got quite a few buds on them, so I might even get a few flowers this year.

So, I will keep persevering with snowdrops. How can I resist?!

Clump of snowdrops
Guaranteed to put a smile on my face

Are you having success with snowdrops? If so, I’d welcome any tips!

Can you plant spring bulbs in January?

The quick answer is yes (well, daffodils and tulips, at least). I always plant spring bulbs in my patio pots later than recommended, mostly because I can’t plant them until I’ve lifted my dahlias out. Last year, the dahlias were still flowering in early November, which pushed my timings even later than usual.

So here I am in the middle of January, with bags of bulbs in the shed still. In general, spring bulbs are incredibly resilient, but they need at least 6 weeks of wintry weather to put their roots down before flowering. Planting them now means that they should still grow but they will flower later than usual.

This is definitely the case for tulips and daffodils. I have planted them in January before and still got a decent display in mid to late spring. A few of the daffodils may come up ‘blind’ though (foliage but no flowers). Also, the daffodils and tulips may well bloom at the same time.

Spring bulbs starting to emerge
Daffodils and tulips may emerge at the same time…
Daffodils flowering at the same time as tulips
…and flower at the same time

The jury is out on irises. It may well be too late to plant them, as they often start flowering in February, but seeing as I’ve got them I might as well plant them and see what happens. They’re certainly not going to flower in the shed.

Iris reticulata
Iris reticulata: a gorgeously uplifting flower in February

Check your bulbs

Before planting, make sure your bulbs are firm. Discard any that have gone soft or mouldy. If there’s just a bit of mould on the outside, and it hasn’t affected the firmness of the bulb, scrub it off with a hard-bristled brush. If the bulbs have started to sprout, be careful not to damage the growing tips when you plant them.

Layering bulbs in pots

By layering spring bulbs in pots – see Bulb lasagne – you can get a display that lasts for several months. First, I work out which bulbs I am going to plant in each pot.

Selection of different spring bulbs to  layer in a pot
A selection of spring bulbs to layer in a pot

Tulips bulbs should be planted first, at about 8 inches (20 cm) deep. I use peat-free compost, with a little grit mixed in to improve the drainage. This year I’ve planted a mix of 3 varieties: Prinses Irene, Havran and Couleur Cardinal).

Tulip bulbs planted in a pot 8 inches deep
Layer 1: Tulip bulbs, planted about 8 inches (20 cm) deep

Cover the tulip bulbs with a 2-inch (5 cm) layer of compost, and then plant a layer of daffodil bulbs about 6 inches (15 cm) deep. I’ve got a mix of narcissi bulbs that I lifted and stored last year, but I lost the labels so it will be interesting to see what comes up.

Mixed daffodil bulbs planted in a pot about 6 inches deep
Layer 2: Mixed daffodil bulbs, planted about 6 inches (15 cm) deep

Cover the daffodil bulbs with another 2-inch (5 cm) layer of compost, and then plant iris reticulata 4 inches (10 cm) deep.

Bulb lasagne, layer 3, dwarf irises
Layer 3: dwarf irises, planted near the top of the pot

Finish off with a final layer of compost.

Late planting works for tulips

December/January is a particularly good time to plant tulip bulbs. If you plant them too early and they sit in warm, wet conditions they are susceptible to fungal diseases, particularly something called ‘tulip fire’. The leaves become withered and distorted and are covered in brown spots. In the past few years, I have never planted tulips before December and it seems to work well.

Pick up a bargain and get planting

By planting slightly later than the ‘the norm’, you may even be able to pick up a bargain load of bulbs, as online retailers and garden centres will be looking to clear their stocks. So, as soon as the ground defrosts (!), get those bulbs in. Don’t forget to share your results.

It's worth planting those spring bulbs, even in January: bloomin' lovely
It’s worth planting bulbs, even in January, for lovely displays of spring colour

February 2022: end of month review

The weather has definitely hampered quality time in the garden this month. It has been cold, wet and blustery. The UK was hit by several major storms, with Storm Eunice wreaking particular havoc in the south of England.

So, although I’ve been itching to start tidying the borders, they have been best left alone. The winter’s debris has provided a comforting duvet of protection from regular frosts over tender new growth…

The February garden
The February garden: a tangled mess of winter structure

…and a haven for insects and other wildlife, sheltering from the inclement weather.

Protective winter structure in the borders
Protective winter structure in the borders

Pockets of colour

Most of the garden is a brown-beige tangle of dead stems and seedheads, but pockets of colour have begun to shine through.

Pockets of colour in the February garden
Splashes of colour around the garden: crocuses, snowdrops, rose hips, aconites, hellebores and pansies

At the shady end of the garden, a few delightful clumps of snowdrops and aconites were the first of the spring bulbs to emerge.

Snowdrops and aconites

With cheery crocuses soon joining the party.

Crocuses bring colour to shady areas

February jobs

Although I left the borders to their own devices, I still managed to get on with a few jobs. I tidied the shed, cut down the autumn raspberry canes and planted a few more snowdrops.

Planting snowdrops in the green
Planting snowdrops in the green

I unearthed my dahlia tubers from winter storage…

Unearthing dahlia tubers from winter storage

…and potted them up.

Pot up dahlia tubers

I harvested the last of 2021’s potatoes, which had overwintered well outside in the sacks that I grew them in.

Final harvest of last year's potatoes
Final harvest of last year’s potatoes

And started chitting new seed potatoes for this year’s crop.

The right kind of chit: short, knobbly, green sprouts
Chitting seed potatoes on a window sill

I even started a few indoor sowings.

First sowings: tomatoes, aubergines, chillis and lettuce
First indoor sowings: tomatoes, aubergines, chillis and lettuce

Improving areas

It was also gratifying to see some improvement in a couple of the garden’s problem areas.

Autumn-planted hellebores appear to be thriving in a previously problem area under an apple tree.

Hellebores thriving under an apple tree

And the strip of soil next to the curb in the front garden is looking tidier after a bit of weeding and extra planting.

Curbside progress
Curbside progress: snowdrops and primroses

Lunchtime walks

When I haven’t been in the garden, I’ve taken my 15 minutes of green further afield, enjoying some short walks around my Hampshire village and along the Basingstoke canal.

Basingstoke canal in February
Canal walk

In the churchyard, storm Eunice brought down huge clumps of mistletoe from the trees.

Mistletoe brought down from trees during storm Eunice

But early blossoms somehow remained intact.

First blossom in February

And I particularly enjoyed seeing larger swathes of snowdrops than I’ve managed to achieve (yet) in my garden.

Naturalised snowdrops

Patio pots

Back in the garden, the pots on my patio are slowly transforming, from early shoots to first blooms.

First blooms of the year in patio pots
From early to late February, the first layer of bulbs in my pots are starting to emerge

An early sign of wonderful things to come.

First iris of 2022
First iris of 2022

Six on Saturday: Tulip mania

This week has been all about the tulips.

1. First tulip

It all started with this very first perfectly formed specimen flushed with a delicate pink.

First tulip 2020

2. Radiant blooms

As more tulips started to open, and the sun shone, the garden basked in the radiance of their blooms.

Radiant tulips

3. Fabulous colour combos

Some of the colour combinations have been simply divine. Here, the deep burgundy satin blooms of Havran stood tall over the red-crimson petals of Couleur Cardinal and the sunset colours of Prinses Irene.

Tulip colour combinations

4. Inner beauty

On closer inspection, as the tulips unfolded, the insides revealed a further hereto hidden inner beauty.

Hidden beauty inside tulips

5. My favourite tulip

It was hard to choose, but Slawa came out the winner this year for sheer wow factor. A deep rich burgundy edged with apricot, all in one perfect goblet-shaped bloom.

My favourite tulip, Slawa

6. Tulip tableau

The stage was set, and all that planting earlier in the year did not disappoint. The tulips have been an absolute joy, particularly at a time when I have needed cheering up. And I wanted to share it with you …

Tulip tableau

Early bloomers

Something fabulous is happening in the garden this month. Small but exquisite blooms are bursting from the ground, providing much-needed pollen and nectar for early emerging pollinators. A walk around the garden reveals the wonders that have inspired great poets. I’ll let them do the talking …

Winter aconite

Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis), the very first of the Spring bloomers.

‘Tis the first blossom that the year hath seen,
This little globe of yellow’s brightest shade,
As though upon a nest of scanty green
A fairy bird its magic egg has laid.
Almost the smallest flower the garden grows,
And yet a flower when not another blows.

– ‘Winter Aconit’, Robert Henry Forster, 1867–1923


Snowdrops (Galanthus species) are a clear sign that winter is waning.

LONE Flower, hemmed in with snows and white as they
But hardier far, once more I see thee bend
Thy forehead, as if fearful to offend,
Like an unbidden guest. Though day by day,
Storms, sallying from the mountain-tops, waylay
The rising sun, and on the plains descend;
Yet art thou welcome, welcome as a friend
– To a snowdrop, William Wordsworth, 1770–1850


Irises are the showiest of blooms at this time of year. Aptly, ‘Iris’ is the Greek word for rainbow.

A wonder! Bow and rainbow as it bent,
Instead of moving with us as we went
(To keep the pots of gold from being found),
It lifted from its dewy pediment
Its two mote-swimming many-colored ends
And gathered them together in a ring.

– Iris by Night, Robert Frost, 1874–1963


The gentle lavender blooms and exotic saffron stigmas of crocuses are a cheery sight on a cold winter’s day. They look fragile, but are remarkably resilient.

Dear child, within each sere dead form
There sleeps a living flower,
And angel-like it shall arise
In spring’s returning hour.

… In blue and yellow from its grave
Springs up the crocus fair,
And God shall raise those bright blue eyes,
Those sunny waves of hair.

– The Crocus, Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1811–1896

What inspiration awaits in your garden this month?

Planting tulips in January

As anyone who knows me knows, I’m late doing everything, and getting bulbs in at the right time is no exception. While daffodils (narcissi) are generally better planted in late autumn, I know from experience that tulip bulbs will still produce a decent display if planted in January. So, if you’ve got some tulip bulbs lurking in a paper bag at the back of the shed, get them in – now!

Venetian tulip collection - a very classy combination of colours
Tulips planted in January can still produce a vibrant display in April/May.

WANTED: cold conditions

Tulip bulbs need a period of chilling to break their dormancy, so now is a pretty good time to get them in. Indeed, it is best to plant tulip bulbs when the temperature has dropped as it reduces the risk of tulip fire – a fungal disease that thrives in warm damp conditions.

Given how wet and mild November and December have been this year, now might even be the optimal time to plant your tulip bulbs, as a cold snap will help to wipe out any fungal disease lurking in the soil.

Healthy bulbs

Tulips grow best in fertile well-drained soil in full sun. Only plant bulbs that are in good condition. If they are soft or going a bit mouldy, bin them.

Good drainage

If, like me, you are planting the tulips in pots, start by covering the bottom of the pot with some broken crockery, gravel or other material to aid drainage.

Add a layer of drainage material to the bottom of your pot.

Soil preparation is important. If planting in the ground, add sharp sand or grit to break up heavy soils and lots of organic matter to improve the structure. I filled my pots to about two-thirds full with a general compost mixed with vermiculite and Growmore.

Add horticultural grit or vermiculite to potting compost for good drainage.

Bulb spacing

Plant your bulbs pointy end up. They can be planted quite close together in pots as long as the bulbs don’t touch each other. In the ground, you are best planting to at least twice the bulb’s width apart. The depth should be two or three times the height of the bulb.

Arrange your bulbs in your pot close together but not touching.

Finally, cover with compost to just below the rim of the pot and water. Keep pots well watered but not too wet or the bulbs will rot.

Spring display

All being well you will be rewarded with a vibrant display of colour in April or May.

Plant bulbs now and be rewarded in April/May with pots of colour.