One of my favourite plants of the season is the diminutive snowdrop, known colloquially as the February Fairmaid! I really admire the fact that whatever the weather throws at it, it soldiers on regardless. The tips of its leaves are especially strengthened to push through frozen ground.

The name of the common snowdrop - Galanthus nivalis - is derived from Greek: gala meaning milk, anthos meaning flower and nivalis denoting snowy. As with most plants, there are many common names; one of my favourites is Candlemas bells, which thanks to Richard Mabey’s book Flora Brittanica, I discovered was so-named by the Catholic Church as a symbol for Candlemas day (2nd February) for its pure white flowers.

Snowdrops first appear to have been recorded growing wild in the 1770s when they were discovered in Worcestershire and Gloucestershire. Increasingly, some of the rarer cultivars of Galanthus change hands for quite large amounts of money. Various gardens up and down the country open their gardens in February to showcase these cultivars. These snowdrop events are becoming very popular and everyone welcomes getting out and about on those dull days in winter to view and perhaps buy some bulbs to plant at home.

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Planting these bulbs ‘in the green’ – just after they’ve finished flowering - gives a good chance of getting established ready for displays the following year and if they’re happy in their given spot, over time they will multiply. Some of them, for example Galanthus S. Arnott, are even scented and have a lovely delicate honey aroma.

Over the last three years we have planted great swathes of Galanthus in our woodland areas here at the gardens: over 90,000 bulbs have been painstakingly planted in pockets all along the woodland ride area and around the columns and it is delightful to see them in February.

On the Winter Walk and sandstone rock areas we are developing a small collection ourselves; cultivars include Galanthus Brenda Troyle which is a hybrid cultivar of S. Arnott and so therefore is also scented. G. Magnet has large flowers held away from the stems so you can easily see the inner petal edges brushed with a green V shape. A very early one which has been flowering reliably since December is Galanthus Mrs McNamara; she is tall and robust on long stems which are held elegantly and the petals are pure white. This one is named after Dylan Thomas’s Mother-in-Law.

Leafing through books and catalogues there are many intriguingly named cultivars that just invite you to want to see them with names such as G. Mustang Sally, and G. Mr Blobby! We should certainly increase our collection to include these. One of the largest snowdrops of all, which we do have, is G. Mighty Atom, sometimes known as G. Bill Bishop. Another which is worth investigating is G Augustus; its petals are intriguingly crimped like that of seersucker fabric.

One of the most excellent bed fellows to plant with snowdrops is winter aconite Eranthis hyemalis. Its deep green leaves circle bright yellow petals in a necklace formation. They both do well under a

tree canopy and like to be left undisturbed. The sight of these beautiful golden plants shining brightly on a cold winter’s day is undoubtedly one of the most rewarding and uplifting sights of the winter season.

Jobs for the week

· Prepare to chit potatoes.

· Sort through your seed catalogues and start to prepare orders for direct sowing vegetables and flowers, a much cheaper way of propagation than buying plants if you have the space.

· Make sure that the bird feeders are topped up with tasty morsels for our feathered friends and there is always a clean supply of water for them to bathe in.

With thanks to Katherine Musgrove, Horticulturist at RHS Garden Harlow Carr

DIARY DATES

Until 25 February: Bath House Gallery - Japanese Gardens Exhibition The most northerly RHS garden in Harrogate is turning Japanese in the New Year as it hosts an exhibition telling the story of Japanese gardens and how their design and planting styles inspired the British to build Japanese-style gardens here in the UK. There will also be a display devoted to the ongoing restoration of the 1920’s Japanese-style garden in Harrogate’s nearby Valley Gardens. A pop-up Japanese Shop will also be set up in the garden selling authentic Japanese products and gifts throughout the exhibition and an opportunity to try your hand at Japanese-inspired crafts such as calligraphy, origami, and the ‘Chopstick Challenge’ under the expert guidance of Japanese tutors in traditional costume. 10am – 3pm. Normal garden admission.

Until 25 February: Women in Horticulture Exhibition Harlow Carr plays host to a Women in Horticulture exhibition celebrating women’s contribution to the horticultural industry over the last 100 years. It includes some well-known names such as Gertrude Jekyll, Margery Fish and Constance Spry, all of whom left an enduring legacy. The touring exhibition – which takes place from 11am – 3pm daily in the Harlow Carr library - is on loan from RHS Lindley Library in London. Normal garden admission.