See our plantsman's selection of tried-and-tested forms of this classic winter flower
These choice snowdrop selections have all proved their worth in terms of both beauty and ease of cultivation – well deserving their Award of Garden Merit (AGM). The award is independently assessed by the RHS and is free from commercial interest, meaning that only the very best cultivars make the cut.
Very early, vigorous and scented, Galanthus ‘Atkinsii’ has distinctive long and slender outer petals. Each inner petal has a green, heart-shaped mark at its tip. The selection is also distinguished by the fact that one edge of one of the two leaves is usually folded back. Introduced in the 1870s, similar plants with malformed flowers are often seen and known as ‘James Backhouse’. Height to 20cm (8in).
Galanthus elwesii var. monostictus reveals broad, greyish leaves, one wrapped around the other at the base. The flowers have oval, pure white outer petals about 2.5cm (1in) long and a green, inverted ‘V’ mark at the tip of each inner petal. This mark never covers more than half of the petal. Vigorous and dependable, occasionally flowering in autumn but usually in February. It grows wild in southern Turkey. Height to 15cm (6in).
Flowering in February and March, Galanthus ‘Magnet’ is one of the most elegant snowdrops. It is noted for its unusually long stalk, which holds the flower away from the stem – so it dances in the whisper of a breeze.
A hybrid between G. nivalis and G. plicatus, the outer petals are similar to those of the familiar G. nivalis (see below) and there is a small neat green mark at the tip of the inner petals. The leaves are narrow and greyish. Height to 25cm (10in).
Galanthus nivalis is the familiar naturalised snowdrop of our February woods and gardens. The narrow foliage is grey-green with the edges touching at the base (not reflexed or overlapping). The flowers have outer petals about 2.5cm (1in) long and the inner petals have a small neat green inverted ‘V’ at the tip.
Often thought of as a British native, it was probably brought here in the 16th century. This species is adaptable and resilient. Height to 15cm (6in).
Galanthus nivalis f. pleniflorus ‘Flore Pleno’ is the familiar double form of the common snowdrop. This selection is a robust, vigorous and long-lived plant, spreading well in a variety of situations. A proliferation of inner, green-tipped petals gives the flowers their double appearance. The number of inner petals varies greatly and is rarely neat; some may also be distorted or long.
Occasionally a fourth outer petal may be present. Withstanding the tests of time, this selection has been known since at least 1703. Height to 15cm (6in).
Galanthus plicatus is a bold snowdrop; its broad foliage is dark green and is distinctive in that the leaf edges are folded back on themselves. The flowers have a generally rounded look, with broad, heavily-textured outer petals up to 2.5cm (1in) long. The position of the markings on the inner petals is rather variable: at the tip, at the tip and base, or through the full length. This species is parent to a number of award-winning cultivars such as ‘Augustus’ (see photo), ‘Diggory’ and ‘Three Ships’. It self seeds freely when happy. Height to 20cm (8in).
Galanthus reginae-olgae subsp. reginae-olgae is the best known of the autumn-flowering snowdrops. Generally similar in appearance to G. nivalis, it may flower in early September, but usually opens in October or sometimes later.
The leaves are absent, or very short, at flowering time. Outer petals reach around 2.5cm (1in) long, and the inner petals have an inverted ‘V” or ‘U’ mark at the apex. This selection enjoys dryish summer conditions, perhaps among tree roots. Height to 15cm (6in).
A classic snowdrop for February and March, Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’ combines elegance and robustness. Its large flowers, with their 3cm (1¼in) long, elliptical outer petals, are attractively rounded, heavy in texture and delightfully honey-scented.
The petals flare prettily in winter sunshine while the inner petals feature a bold arch-like mark at the tips. The foliage always features at least one leaf edge, which is reflexed. A suitable selection for cutting. Height to 15cm (6in).
Galanthus woronowii is unusual among snowdrops in the bright green colouration of its broad, glossy leaves, which reflect winter sun brightly. The flowers, from January to March, are relatively small, with the outer petals just under 2.5cm (1in) long. The inner petals have a green mark at the tip shaped like a cloven hoof.
Once rarely seen, in recent years bulbs imported from the wild have been available for purchase in many garden centres, so please check that what you buy is from cultivated stock. Height to 20cm (8in).
Closely related to snowdrops, Leucojum vernum is distinct in that all the petals are the same length and all feature a bright green mark just above the tip. It looks like a green-tipped white bell, about 4cm (1½in) across with one, or sometimes two, bells carried on each stem in March.
The long, dark green leaves are glossy and held erect with the flowers. This species enjoys soil that does not dry out, but is never waterlogged either. Height to 25cm (10in).
Hear our Gardening with the RHS podcast snowdrop special