On Gardening

Summer Snowflake flowers hint sweetly at the promise of spring

McClatchy-Tribune News ServiceFebruary 1, 2013 

LIFE HOME-ONGARDENING MCT

The cheerful white blossoms of the snowflake serve as the harbingers of spring and that winter is soon coming to an end.

HANDOUT — MCT

Everyone has a favorite flower that is a harbinger of spring. This year I am giving the nod to the Summer Snowflake, Leucojum aestivum. Yes, it is a little funny that it’s named Summer Snowflake when it’s one of the first bulbs to bloom in winter.

This persevering trooper of the lily family doesn’t receive the accolades it deserves, which may have to do with the way we use it. First, consider it a rock-solid perennial, cold hardy in zones 4-9. This means that just about the entire U.S. can grow it. The bulbs multiply freely, and they appreciate being divided about every three to five years and planted in the fall.

Ours at the Columbus (Ga.) Botanical Garden are growing in fertile, well-prepared beds. But they can tolerate a variety of soils, even those known to be soggy. They need water during their growth period, but can tolerate drought during summer. They also produce their glistening white blossoms when grown in clay-type soils.

To say the Summer Snowflake is an heirloom flower would be a huge understatement. They are native to North Africa, the Mediterranean region and even Iran and have been in cultivation since the 1500s. But in our world you will see these bulbs flourishing in old cemeteries, abandoned farmhouses and – almost like an archaeological beacon – they point out where old houses once stood.

The little bell-shaped flowers have a slight fragrance and are composed of white petals, each bearing a green jewel-like dot at the tip. Each stalk usually bears two to six flowers.

A handful of bulbs really won’t do the plant justice. If you want to see the possibilities, plant a bunch!

You can mass them under deciduous trees, spacing bulbs about 6 inches apart. This allows the plant to get needed sunlight while in bloom and growing.

On the other hand, if you are blessed with rocks, you will have quite a companion for growing in the adjacent streams of soil.

In the world of companions, think boldly when it comes to planting your informal drift. Use Snowflake in partnership with shrubs like the flowering quince, forsythia and blue phlox, one of my favorite perennials.

Sometimes they bloom sooner than expected and look picturesque against a backdrop of dark green hollies loaded with red berries.

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