I love this time of year. Dark, cold days, punctuated by bursts of feeble winter sunshine, when the gems and jewels that appear in the garden are all the more welcome. And for the next 6-8 weeks there are my favourite plants to look forward to: snowdrops, the true harbingers of spring.

There have been a few different varieties popping their heads up over the last week in my Dorset patch, and the clump shown here has resulted from one bulb of ‘Magnet’ that I planted about 9 years ago. It’s still one of my favourites. There are also the first signs of ‘Spindlestone Surprise’ (gold markings instead of the usual green) and some poculiform (6 petalled, not double) varieties too. I’ve built up quite a collection in recent years.

The curiosity value in usual varieties of these diminutive plants sees them change hands for huge amounts of money. Back in 2015 the press were buzzing with the story of a variety named ‘Golden Fleece’ which sold on eBay for £1390 – though apparently it did take 18 years to breed and bulk up into sufficient quantities to sell.

Carpets of snow

But for me one of the greatest delights is to see carpets of the common species, Galanthus nivalis, covering the ground. And these aren’t expensive to buy in quantity, ‘in the green’ (growing), for planting over the coming weeks. Two years ago, I bought around 3000 bulbs and planted them singly and in pairs at the end of my garden under some birch trees. It really isn’t a big area, but it was incredible how many snowdrops it swallowed up! Last spring I was thrilled to see my efforts repaid with each bulb hoisting one or two valiant flowers to jiggle in the winter breeze. And I can gleefully report that this year there are masses of clustered shoot tips that suggest the show will be even better. Bliss!

Snowdrops love my chalky-marl soil and seem to bulk up quickly. But they are wonderfully adaptable plants, growing on all but the most water-logged or acidic soils. Set the bulbs deep – at least 10cm down – so they don’t dry out in summer and be generous with your plantings. Try underplanting trees, deciduous shrubs and hedges where the dappled shade in summer will suit the snowdrops.

So spread the love and plant some this season – if you’ve already got some, then plant more! For the more unusual varieties have a look at Ashwoods Nurseries and Avon Bulbs, while for large quantities of the common snowdrop try Naturescape or Clare Bulbs, amongst many others. Meantime, I’m off out into the garden with my kneeling pads on to get down with my clumps…