Blossom XLV: First Snowdrops


“In the oddity or maybe the miracle of life,
the roots of something new
frequently lie in the decaying husks
of something old.”
Craig D. Lounsbrough

Once the rain finally stopped, the clouds blew out to sea, and the sun shone golden as it dropped towards the west, I finally felt moved to head out of doors to putter a little in the garden.  How could I not?  It was a rare warmish afternoon and the sun was shining.

It was only after planting out some potted Cyclamen, and a few odd things  that had been languishing in a corner of the garage, that I wandered up to the top of the garden to see what there was to see.  There is always something to see, even if it is nothing more than a swelling bud or a few more green leaves shyly poking up through winter’s mud.

And so it was that I braved the squishy paths and found myself wondering at the bit of fresh whiteness at my feet.  Snowdrops!  The first blooming bulbs of the season!



What a quiet, special moment that creeps up so unexpectedly, to see the first flower of  a new spring while still  in the midst of winter.   It is like a sigil  for what is yet to come.

The old year has passed away, but the remains of those former days remain.  And out of the decaying leaves and soggy ground something pristine and fresh and bright emerges, as if by some old magic.  Snowdrops are simple things, tiny and meek.  They shyly nod just inches above the soil, ephemeral and fragile.  And still they exhibit the sheer life force to survive and carry on irregardless of the forces of winter.

Who would not be inspired and encouraged by such a sight?  Even though we have several weeks of freezing cold and winter storms ahead, spring began to stir in our garden today.  In our garden, and in this gardener’s heart.

Woodland Gnome 2019



“Perhaps that is where our choice lies –
– in determining how we will meet the inevitable end of things,
and how we will greet each new beginning.”
Elana K. Arnold

A January Monday Vase

January 26, 2015 Monday vase 018


What bits of beauty can you scavenge from your garden on this last Monday of January?

That is the challenge…

Answering the challenge took me all around the garden today with clippers and a cup of warm water in hand.  We have the proverbial calm before the storm today in coastal Virginia.  It was actually sunny when I headed out mid-day, and almost warm.  The wind was brisk, though, which reminded me to make this a quick scavenging hunt.


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I found more snowdrops blooming in a sheltered spot beneath some box, some white Hellebores just making their presence known in the lower stump garden, and a few bright Viola blossoms.  I’ve been admiring the bright red stems of our native blueberry bushes, and so included a few along with some evergreen Azaleas.

There are also a few stems of Forsythia, their buds still tightly closed, and some of the variegated ivy growing near the kitchen door.

Meager as that may be, it reflects the beauty of our January garden.


There is a bit of potting soil and sand beneath the moss to sustain the plants growing in the glass plate.

There is a bit of potting soil and sand beneath the moss to sustain the plants growing in the glass plate.


And yes, of course the bright vivid greens of our moss and lichen, thriving in this very wet winter.  While most of our evergreens are just hunkered down for the duration hoping to survive, the moss glows with vitality.

I have placed the vase in the midst of another moss garden, constructed in a shallow glass plate set in a silver charger.  Rooted ivy grows and a tiny fern division grow out of the living moss.  Perhaps this little vignette will last long enough for the cut branches to respond to our warmth indoors and begin to unfurl their buds.

I’ve been thinking of a friend while puttering in the garden today, who with her husband left our community a few years back to move closer to her family on the coast of Florida.  She lets me know, sometimes, how much she misses her friends here in Williamsburg, and the magic of our changing seasons.

An avid gardener herself, and very talented floral designer, I hope the photos of this little Monday vase will brighten her day and let her know that we miss her, too.


January 26, 2015 Monday vase 011~

I discovered the “Monday Vase” challenge a week ago while following links from gardening blog to gardening blog.  Many of the participants tend their gardens across Europe.  Perhaps more of my gardening friends from here in the United States will decide to join in with vases of their own as our gardens awaken to spring.  What a nurturing thing to do to bring a bit of the garden indoors for our loved ones to enjoy close up once a week!

If you love cut flowers, and are curious to see what others have created today, please follow the links in the comments on Cathy’s page.  I also enjoyed John’s vase of pansies and parsley today in his lovely cobalt blue vase.


January 26, 2015 Monday vase 008


Often I hesitate to cut flowers from our garden because I want to enjoy them as they grow.  We leave them for the bees and butterflies.  And I wonder if they’ll make us sneeze indoors.

But after enjoying the beautiful arrangements others have made to join this challenge, I’m inspired.  And I plan to make the garden tour with clippers in hand a Monday ritual from here on.

Woodland Gnome 2015


January 26, 2015 Monday vase 009


It Is Inevitable

Hellebores and emerging bulbs

Heuchera  and emerging bulbs

Our feet  are now firmly set on the long slow journey of the unfolding year. 



As with any journey, there may be set backs from time to time.  Yet the journey continues.  Our journey may take us to unanticipated stops along the way, and progress may be a bit slower than we wish; but the path still lies before us.

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Yesterday’s snow, blowing in from the west, proved a set back for our journey towards spring.

March 3 budding 002

The intensely cold air, blowing down from the north, brought us record low morning temperatures across the Eastern half of the United States.

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It was 17 here this morning at 4:30, but I’m so grateful for that bit of warmth.  Our neighbors to the north, around the Great Lakes, had a far colder morning when the sun finally rose.

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Yesterday’s snow is now hardened into ice. But that ice is quickly melting and evaporating in our morning sun.

Daffodils emerging from the sun, buds ready to open one day soon.

Daffodils emerging from the sun, buds ready to open one day soon.

We can find inspiration in the budding daffodils, surrounded by snow, still standing tall as they wait for their day to open.  Snow melts from around their still green leaves, watering the Earth where they grow.



We find inspiration in buds on lilac and Forsythia shrubs, showing color, but waiting to unfurl their petals.  Unfurl they will, one day soon.  The earliest of spring’s flowers inspire me with their courage and fortitude, opening to an uncertain world.

Forsythia and lilac

Forsythia and lilac

Their timing must be correct if they are to open at the perfect time to greet the insects who must pollinate them, and for their pollinated flowers  to have the opportunity to set seeds for the coming season.



I wandered around in the falling snow yesterday, finding a thin layer of frozen whiteness  blanketing new spring growth like fragile veils of lace.  The very energy and vitality of the emerging leaves and buds seemed to shine through these icy mantillas, laid gently across the garden.



It was clear that they would  melt swiftly away, like a bridal veil, after the first kiss of sunshine.

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Because spring is an inevitable force of nature.  Each day subtly lengthens in our vernal journey back towards the sun.

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With every passing day the sun’s rays probe more deeply into the cells of every bough, leaf, and bud.

No matter what winds may blow across the surface of our planet, spring unfolds as the Earth’s deep energy responds to the sun’s approach.

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We can not let the illusion of winter distract us from knowing the growing presence of spring.

March 2 garden 006

Our path is set.  Followed year upon year beyond memory, our journey follows the familiar landmarks.  We are pilgrims in time, following an ancient map; making inevitable progress along the path of eternal change.

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Grape Mahonia in bud

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

“A tree can be tempted out of its winter dormancy by a few hours of southerly sun—the readiness to believe in spring is stronger than sleep or sanity.”

Amy Leach

March 2 garden 007

“The hopeless hope is one of the early harbingers of spring, bespeaking an innocent belief that the world might right its wrongs and reverse its curses simply because the trees are coming into leaf.”

Aleksandar Hemon

Waiting For Snowdrops

February 24, 2014 snowdrops 045

I remember golden yellow daffodils blooming in mid-December of 2012 near the James River.  They looked so unnatural nodding their cheerful yellow heads right as Christmas lights were shining and we were deeply into holiday preparations.  They brought with them a horrible foreboding that our seasons were dangerously out of whack.

This December brought a few late roses and early Forsythia blossoms, but blessedly no daffodils. Those of us who choose to live in the temperate areas of the planet appreciate each of our seasons.  When they are out of whack, we feel a bit cheated to have missed out on the special joys and beauties of that time of year.

February 24, 2014 snowdrops 001

No, wintery cold weather came early in 2013, and has settled into our Virginia landscape much later into the spring than we’ve come to expect.  Our bare winter landscape is browned out.  Even some evergreen leaves, normally vibrantly green throughout the winter, have been frozen into dull brownness.

Snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis, is the earliest bulb of spring.  Even their name explains their special place in the late winter garden.

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The genus, Galanthus, is derived from the Greek for “milk,” gala,” and “flower,” anthos.  All Galanthus are creamy white, so “milk flower” is an appropriate and descriptive genus name.  The species name, nivalis, means “of the snow.”  Named by Carl Linnaeus in 1735, the snowdrop is called, “milk flower of the snow.”  “Of the snow” refers to both its pristine white appearance, and also to the fact that snowdrops often bloom so early that snow is still on the ground.

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Snowdrops are our earliest bulb in the garden this year.  Not even Crocus, another early bloomer, or Muscari have opened yet.  Although I found Crocus last week on a sunny bank along the roadside in our community, none have appeared yet in our own garden.

Perhaps because our own winter has been so long and unusually cold, we treasure every jewel like bloom.  Each one is greeted with appreciation and happiness because the clear message each holds is the promise that spring has begun unfolding for us.

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Even during this warm stretch of four days we’ve enjoyed, the local weather forecasters have kept up their warnings of more snow on the way.  We’ll drop back to freezing tonight, and we expect an inch of snow on Wednesday, followed by more freezing snow and sleet by the weekend.  By Wednesday morning our own snowdrops will bravely bloom above a white carpet of fresh snow.

Galanthus nivalis are native to Northern Europe.  They are well adapted to grow and bloom in the freezing weather of late winter and early spring in zones 3-7.  Williamsburg, Virginia, is on the southern border of their range here in the United States.

February 24, 2014 snowdrops 003

Perhaps because they are the first bulb of spring, they’ve been hybridized and planted widely throughout Europe and the British Isles.  In fact, they are so popular in Britain, Scotland, Wales and  Northern Ireland that many of us assume that to be their native habitat.

Although widely naturalized in beautiful drifts in woodlands and meadows, snowdrops, or “February fairmaids” as they are often called, probably first crossed the Channel with the Romans.  Popularized in the early Sixteenth Century, they were part of the nursery trade between Europe, The British Isles, and the Colonies in North America.  Snowdrops are so treasured in the British Isles that many avid gardeners take tours in February to see them in bloom, alongside Hellebores and early shrubs.

February 16 spring flowers 037

Snowdrops, like many bulbs, are absolutely simple to grow.  Although it’s always wise to prepare the ground for anything, tiny snowdrop bulbs can be set into tiny drills in the ground, about 2 inches deep, covered, and left alone.  They are quite beautiful naturalized into lawn, under trees and along ponds and creeks; planted in  beds and borders or pots; or even grown in tiny pots to bring in as houseplants during late winter.

Planted in autumn, they need several weeks of cold weather before they’ll begin to grow.  I bought several dozen bulbs this year in December and planted them “second knuckle deep” in outdoor planters where I am growing Violas, Heucheras, ferns, and shrubs.  When I switch out the winter/spring plants for summer ones, I’ll lift the Galanthus bulbs and “plant them in the green” elsewhere in the garden.

February 24, 2014 snowdrops 039

All bulbs need several weeks after bloom time for their leaves to create sugars for next year’s growth.  It is important to leave their leaves freely growing until they die back naturally in early summer.  Doing this prepares the bulb for next spring’s show, and also allows the bulb to create offsets, or new baby bulbs around its base.  When you dig bulbs out of their pots in May you’ll notice several tiny bulbs surrounding the one originally planted the previous fall.

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This is how bulbs spread, and eventually naturalize an area.  Many Galanthus, won’t produce viable seeds.  They are hybrids.  The only way to increase your bulb display year to year is to dig and divide them.  “Planting in the green” means one carefully lifts the bulb, leaving all of the leaves intact, and then gently replants the bulbs at the same depth where they will permanently grow.  Water the clump in well, and allow the foliage to continue growing until it naturally dies back.  No fertilizer is needed, but if helps any plant to give it a drink of dilute fish emulsion or sea weed emulsion from time to time.

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Galanthus really shine in a natural setting.  They are beautiful growing at the base of trees, along paths, creeks and ponds.  They are individually so tiny, at only about 5″ tall, it is best to plant a great mass of them for a big impact.  Plant them where you’ll pass them frequently and pause to enjoy their delicate beauty up close.

You might also want to mark them so you won’t forget where they are and accidentally dig them up later in the season.  Ignored by deer, they grow well in a wide range of soils, in part sun to partial shade.  They prefer moist soil when in active growth, but winter soils are generally moist in our area.

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So in our Forest Garden we are waiting and watching for snowdrops to uncurl their petals as our first tangible harbinger of the change of seasons.  Even though winter is returning to our garden tonight, we know its days are numbered, and our snowdrops promise that spring has already begun.

February 23, 2014 spring bulbs 006

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

“The snowdrop and primrose our woodlands adorn,
and violets bathe in the wet o’ the morn.”

Robert Burns

Our Forest Garden- The Journey Continues

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