21. Snowdrops

You can’t really see my garden from my house. We live in an Edwardian terrace, with a bathroom plonked on the back, and a paved side return. No big picture window. No French doors. Unless you step into the garden, you don’t really see it, and over winter, you can all but forget it’s there.

Whatever time of year it is, there are things you can do in a garden. But in winter, the list is pretty short. Leave your garden untouched from October, and in January, you can pretty much pick up where you left off. This year, because I was getting married, I did exactly that.

So when, on New Year’s Day, I picked up my shiny new secateurs, it felt strange, in that way resuming an old hobby does. The task was simple and largely symbolic: pruning a few things that I had neglected to prune, in honour of the new year. Still, it felt vaguely and oddly overwhelming. I don’t know how to do this anymore.

It felt pointless, too. Winter gardening is very much an act in delayed gratification. You prune brown foliage back to brown sticks. You plant bulbs which will emerge months later. You clear and tidy and lay the ground. You don’t have a lot to look at while you’re doing it (especially in my garden, where roving cats scare away all the birds). It’s cold, and it’s wet, and it’s dark, and it’s easy to wonder: can I really be bothered?

What I’m trying to say is: this is the moment in the gardening year when you most need a boost. And this is when the snowdrops come.

Actually, depending on which snowdrops you’re talking about, they may be long gone: varieties like ‘Remember Remember’ flower as early as October. But the classic common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, arrives in British gardens and woodlands in January and February, a welcome reminder that spring is on its way.

The delicate white flowers, heads meekly tilted to the ground, feel appropriately wintery; I like to think of them as Nature’s way of easing us back in. Soon, there will be yolk-yellow daffodils, tulips in a million different colours, a Cadbury carpet of bluebells. For now, we have something more restrained, because we need a bit of time to get back into it.


  1. Our first snowdrop appeared on New Year’s Day – a lovely promise of things to come! And we’ve had a cerinthe major purpurescens flowering for several weeks (self-seeded from last year!) Happy New Year.

  2. It was lovely to go out into the garden on my return home after a New Year visit to family to see the snowdrops blooming bravely, despite the Arctic temperatures. There is something so hopeful about them.

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