Our weeks-long bloom of snowdrops lightens the winter blues. See them while they last.
Henry Francis du Pont’s garden diaries for the winters of the 1920s and ’30s make many mentions of warm-weather golf and Galanthus, a flower known by the common name of snowdrop. By the 1940s, du Pont wrote that he enjoyed the blossoming of late winter so much, he no longer wished to spend the entire season at his home in Boca Grande, Florida. He wanted to return to Winterthur.
A symbol of spring and hope in Western art and literature, the snowdrop has since become one of the estate’s signature flowers, blooming reliably in vast carpets of white on the March Bank and in other garden areas starting as early as January, thanks to du Pont’s early experiments. You can start looking for them in all their glorious profusion now.
Galanthus describes a genus of about 20 species of small perennial bulbs that grow as two linear leaves bearing a single white, bell-shaped flower with delicate green markings. The blossom hangs like a drop. Native to Europe and western Asia, they naturalize easily, especially in deciduous woodlands, where du Pont planted them to extend the season of bloom across Winterthur’s 60 acres of natural garden. His earliest recorded sighting in a season was on December 7, 1931.
Du Pont planted seven different species and seven cultivars beginning in the early 1900s. Winterthur still has seven species—though a couple have replaced du Pont’s originals—and more than fifty cultivars. Winterthur’s garden team, always developing new ways to preserve du Pont’s singular vision, continues his experiments.
“We are trialing ones that flower earlier and later, ones with different flower forms such as doubles, and some with variations in green and yellow markings, all to extend the level of interest or the season,” says Linda Eirhart, director of horticulture and senior curator of plants. “They are primarily white with green markings, but there are subtle differences between the species and cultivars. It’s fun to look at them with that level of detail.”
Though individual plants keep their flowers for only a few weeks, the sequence of bloom times for the different species ensures touches or drifts of white across the estate from fall into spring.
Snowdrops are wonderful plants for home gardeners who are looking to create visual interest and color in winter, Eirhart says. Snowdrops layer well with hostas and ferns, grow in a variety of conditions, and require little maintenance. Large mail order companies offer a few species and cultivars. Look to specialty nurseries for more unusual ones.
Winterthur boasts one of the largest displays of snowdrops in the United States. Plan your visit around the weather. Mild weather brings the blooms sooner and stronger. The blossoms tighten up during especially frigid days, such as those in mid-January, but will open again on warmer days. You’ll find them into March.