Thursday 18 January 2018

Glory-of-the-snow brings blue brightness



Glory-of-the-snow is a seemingly fanciful name given to chionodoxa. Although it is easier to remember than the botanical name, they both mean exactly the same thing. The botanical name is made up of the Greek words for 'glory-of-the-snow'. It reputedly gets this name from the ability of the little blue flowers to peep out through the late cover of snow as the spring melt gets under way. The plant comes from mountainous parts of Turkey, Greece, Crete and Cyprus.

Whatever the story of this plant's name, this is a little gem for the spring garden. It is in the family of the well-known hyacinth as can be seen from the structure of the plant. It has a few fairly broad leaves and flowers carried on arching stems in a loose grouping, and carries a variable number of individual florets on each flower stem. Unlike the flowers of hyacinth which are partly tubular, these flowers open out flat, star-like.

They are coloured a piercing blue that makes them easily visible from a distance even though the plants are only 10 centimetres tall. The bright blue is enhanced by a flash of white at the centre of the flowers. This acts as a guiding signal for pollinating insects, which are scarce in spring, but it also makes the flowers very striking to the human eye. It is easy to understand how they might readily stand out on a snowy hillside.

There is a extremely pretty pink-flowered form called 'pink giant' with a lovely combination of pale pink instead of blue and still the white centre to the flowers at the base of the petals. It combines well with the blue form, although it might be decided to separate the two.

Chionodoxa is very easy to grow. It thrives in any soil that is well-drained. Only soil that floods in winter and remains wet is unsuitable because the bulbs are likely to rot. Occasional flooding of short duration seems to be of no harm. Being a mountain plant, used to open skies overhead, this plant thrives in full sunshine, but it can take a little shade too and is often grown under light shade of tall shrubs or trees where some sunshine is likely to penetrate for a few hours of the day.

It is wonderful in a rock garden or a gravel bed. When it is well suited to soil and light, it will set seeds freely and self-sow close to the parent plants. Care is needed when weeding close to the clump as the seedlings are like grass leaves. The seeds can be collected when ripe in summer, just as the first pods open, and sown in trays of sandy compost.

Sunday Independent

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