GINA PARKINSON takes advantage of a fine spell to tidy up and to admire the first snowdrops of the year.

THERE have been some beautiful days recently, clear blue sky and the temperature warming nicely towards the middle of the day. Last weekend, I even managed an hour or so outside without a coat. Spring was definitely in the air.

I began the spring clear-up in the garden, starting with the climbers that festoon the east and south-facing walls of the garage. These plants are well established and a tangle of winter-flowering jasmine, mid- and late-blooming clematis, purple vine and actinidia.

The contrasting mix of flowers and foliage is lovely, beginning with the yellow flowers of the jasmine in early winter through to the peak of production in late summer, when the mass of growth is almost toppling over itself. Already, the clematis are budding along the impossibly thin stems. Who can believe that such delicacy could support the weight of growth these plants will carry over the next few months?

This is all in the mind’s eye, but in the garden now the first bulbs of the year, snowdrops, are in full flower. Ours have only just come into bloom, although I know earlier blooming varieties or those in a more sheltered spot have been in flower for a few weeks already.

It is a delight seeing these small plants begin to appear just after Christmas. Sharp green shoots pop up through the soil in those dark days at the end of one year and the beginning of another. They seem unconcerned about the weather, the overwhelming desire to grow outweighing any onslaught of snow or rain or even solid frozen soil.

Flower stems follow the leaves, everything in miniature, a tiny white blob forming at the tip of the shoot. As January progresses, the snowdrops thicken up, mature clumps filling out,with single, self-seeded plants popping up a little way from the mother group. Flower buds are held like pearls above the foliage, before hanging down and opening into nodding, green-spotted white blooms that last for weeks.

Galanthus nivalis is the common snowdrop seen in gardens and woodland at this time of year. The outer sepals are white and longer than the inner segments, which are marked with green on the outer edges.

They are unfussy plants that will grow in most positions in all but the driest of soils. Semi-shade is the preferred place, perhaps under deciduous shrubs that will offer shelter from the sun in summer.

Clumps of snowdrops also look attractive in lawns: the only drawback being that that area needs to left uncut for a while in spring, until the leaves have died back.

Snowdrops are also useful in winter containers, where they can be mixed with other early flowering plants such as cyclamen and violas. Once they have finished flowering, the bulbs can be put out into the garden, where they should flower for years without disturbance.

As snowdrops prefer to be planted ‘in the green,’ this is a good way of increasing stock.

Dry bulbs can be put into the garden in September, but the success rate can be poor.


Snowdrop gardens

THE National Gardens Scheme begins its open gardens in our area this month with Devonshire Mill in Pocklington on Sunday, February 22. This lovely garden with long-established drifts of snowdrops will be open from 11am-4.30pm, admission £3 and is a treat to visit for inspiration at the start of the gardening year.

Other gardens in the Yorkshire area with displays of snowdrops among the plants on show include: Bainton Close in Beverley; Austwick Hall near Settle; Bridge Farm House at Great Heck; Brook Farm near Hull; Fawley House at North Cave, and; The Court, North Ferriby. These are generally open by appointment only, so check the details on the National Gardens Scheme website before setting out.


Weekend catch-up

February is a good time to sort through all the old seed packets and decide which to usew this year.

It is easy to stockpile these sachets of wonder, keeping them from year to year without getting round to sowing the contents. Get rid of the oldest ones to begin with, together with duplicates; really, how many packets of beetroot does a gardener need?

Then sort them into order of sowing time and keep them out somewhere they will be slightly annoying. This will spur you into action when the time is right, if only to get those envelopes out of the way.

As a reward, it could be time to sow a few seeds. Sweet peas are a good choice. They are tough plants that will germinate quickly and tolerate cool temperatures as long as they are protected from frost. I will start mine off indoors then put them out into the greenhouse once they have been potted on a couple of times.

This won’t be for a few weeks, by which time the weather should be a little warmer. To help them on their way, it is a good idea to bring potting compost indoors for 24 hours before sowing, to warm it up to room temperature.


Gardening TV and radio


6.15am, BBC2, Great British Garden Revival. Tulips are under the spotlight.

7.15am, BBC2, Glorious Gardens from Above. Christine Walkden takes the hot air balloon above Bressingham Gardens in Norfolk.

8am, BBC Radio Humberside, The Great Outdoors. With Blair Jacobs and Doug Stewart.

9am, BBC Radio York, Julia Lewis. Gardening-related news and features from around North Yorkshire.

9am, BBC Radio Leeds, Tim Crowther and Joe Maiden.

2pm, BBC R4, Gardeners’ Question Time. From Baslow in Derbyshire with chairman Eric Robson and gardening experts Anne Swithinbank, Bob Flowerdew and Chris Beardshaw.


3pm, BBC R4, Gardeners’ Question Time. Panellists Chris Beardshaw, Pippa Greenwood and Christine Walkden help gardeners from Galleywood in Essex with their horticultural problems. The chairman is Eric Robson.