Leucojum – making winter white

Dreaming of a powdery white winter? Well, there’s an answer to South Africa’s lack of snow, and it comes in the form of blooming snowflakes – lots of them if you’re lucky. The common name for Leucojum, these living snowflakes may not be conducive to tossing around in snowball fights, but they sure do cover the ground in a magical carpet of glimmering white when grown in the right conditions.

These conditions are best found in a natural woodland setting. Leucojum loves wetter habitats such as these, as well as meadows, riversides or swamps. Replicate these conditions at home by choosing a cool spot that doesn’t receive the hotter afternoon sun, and ensure your soil is well composted up to 30cm. The perfect soil will be rich, loose and friable.

Clump groups of snowflake bulbs at the base of trees and shrubs, so that they are covered in shade most of the day, or overplant them with shade grass for similar results. And then add mulch to retain the necessary moisture. If you look after these plants well, there will be no need to remove and store your bulbs. In the right conditions, Leucojum bulbs will flower again and again, year after year in the same spot. And, because the fleshy seed pods are inflated, they’re easily dispersed by water, so your generous sprinkling of snowflakes could easily multiply as time goes on.

During the months of April and May, plant your bulbs 2cm under the ground, and 5cm apart, and water them deeply twice a week from then until December. From July to September the results will start to materialise as stems of about 40cm high, with narrow, strap-like dark-green leaves, begin to produce the distinct bell-shaped snowflake flower, its white tepals each dotted with a single green spot. As these delicate blooms bob their heads in the wind, you’ll be pleased to notice that a faint violet scent accompanies their dance. Leucojum is therefore aptly named – the Greek leucos referring to its white colour, and ion meaning violet.

One of about nine species from Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, L. aestivum is the most commonly available to us. This species delivers a more chocolatey scent and, although it is known as the summer snowflake, it too appears in winter and early spring. Do not fret if you’re experiencing a particularly cold winter – these plants can withstand temperatures as low as -15’C and are completely frost-hardy. As an added bonus, they are really resistant to diseases and pests.

Feel free to scatter snowflakes among mixed plantings or use them as border plants or in containers. However, for the optimal wow-factor planting, grow Leucojum directly in groundcover beds such as Asian jasmine, liriope and English ivy. Such green areas of the garden that were hardly noticed previously will suddenly transform into a talking point as your winter becomes white with snowflakes. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!