Signs of spring

By: Richard Wilford - 07/01/2011

We are in the depths of winter but there are already signs of spring appearing on the Rock Garden at Kew.

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Snowdrops are already flowering on the Rock Garden and one of the first to appear is a clump of Galanthus elwesii planted under an old Japanese maple. This species of snowdrop comes from south-east Europe, Turkey and the Caucasus and was named after the plant collector and traveller Henry Elwes in 1875. It is a strong plant, taller than the common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, and can have one or two green marks on the inner petals.


Galanthus elwesii on Kew's Rock Garden in early January

Galanthus elwesii on Kew's Rock Garden in early January


The marks on the inner petals vary in size and shape and sometimes they join together to make a fish-like shape.


Close up of a flower of Galanthus elwesii

Flower of Galanthus elwesii


Another form of Galanthus elwesii that is also on the Rock Garden is called 'Three Leaves'. Most snowdrops have two leaves, with the flower stem emerging from between them but as you can see in the next photo, Galanthus elwesii 'Three Leaves' has an extra leaf. This plant is also flowering now at Kew Gardens. There are 14 different species and subspecies of snowdrop growing on the Rock Garden and several cultivars, so over the next couple of months there should be plenty to see.


Plants of Galanthus elwesii Three Leaves

Galanthus elwesii 'Three Leaves' 

Cultivation tips

Most snowdrops like plenty of sunshine, especially in the winter when days are so short, but in the summer they do not like to be too hot and dry, even though they are dormant, so plant them somewhere that has a little dappled shade once the leaves are on the trees or is shaded from the sun for part of the day, and avoid soil that becomes dry and dusty. You can plant the bulbs in the summer, but if they have been sitting on the garden centre shelves for a long time, they can dry out too much and not come up next winter. Buy them as soon as they appear in the shops and plant straight away. Alternatively buy them growing in pots at a spring flower show. This is the best way to find the more unusual forms.


Snowdrops for sale at a flower show in February

A range of different snowdrops on display at the RHS February flower show in London.


Moving snowdrops 'in the green' means when they are still in growth, after flowering, so you can be sure they haven't dried out too much. However, digging them up before going dormant can damage the roots so it is best to keep them in some soil when moving them. If you are successful you can have a wonderful display once they become established in your garden.

- Richard -

2 comments on 'Signs of spring'

Gudrun Bauer says

16/02/2011 1:33:38 PM | Report abuse

It gives me hope that spring will come soon. And I am looking forward to visiting Kew in April! Thank you so much. Regards, Gudrun

Arthur K says

14/01/2011 5:32:31 PM | Report abuse

Spring, currently from my location, seems an eternity away. I enjoy seeing the emergence, appreciate the species description and cultivation tips.

About us

Looking north towards the Davies Alpine House from the Rock Garden

Several people contribute to the Alpine and Rock Garden Team blog. Richard Wilford is the Collections Manager in the Hardy Display Section at Kew. His responsibilities include all the areas where alpines are grown at Kew Gardens. The three team leaders, Joanne Everson, Graham Walters and Katie Price, each have their own particular parts of the Gardens to look after. Between them, these four experts have over 55 years experience of growing alpines.

Alpines at Kew Gardens are not only grown to create colourful and informative displays, they also play an important role in the research Kew carries out around plant naming, classification, biodiversity and conservation.

Mountains are found on every continent and each range has its own unique alpine flora, but these plants are under threat from climate change. As temperatures rise, alpines are forced higher and will eventually have nowhere to go. The alpine collections at Kew are studied to help us all understand the mountain flora better and make informed decisions about protecting its future.

"Probably the most beautiful glasshouse in the world is the Davies Alpine House at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew", John Hoyland, Gardens Illustrated, April 2011

Richard Wilford has written a book on alpines, 'Alpines from Mountain to Garden', published by Kew Publishing. You can buy it in the Kew shops or from

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