The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

How to easily propagate aconites and snowdrops in your garden

Photo: Stone dog with basket

Photo: Stone dog with basket

The past two dry days have meant that I have donned my thermal suit and my winter decorating outfit. I’ve started work on the outside of a lovely house, set in forty acres.

Here I’ve seen a hare snatching the chance to sneak up the drive towards the vegetable garden (the Labradors were out playing golf at the time), blue pheasant nest there and bountiful feeders attract a wide range of birds. By the pond, I spotted my first Jay as I was watching the moorhens silently pick their way into the safety of the rushes. In a few weeks time they will have young and I’ll eat my lunch on the shores of their domain hoping for a glimpse of the chicks. And this afternoon I saw a green woodpecker feeding on the lawn.

The only wildlife that are not welcome are the squirrels, rabbits and large black birds that steal the walnuts in the summer. These are all dispatched efficiently and skilfully with shotguns. Come the revolution, this family would be handy people to know – both for protection and food.

I like squirrels, although I know that they can do enormous damage in gardens. But watching a squirrel dancing through the high branches of a large tree is magical. I haven’t the neck to mention this to my clients but I have never seen a squirrel on the estate. Perhaps the S. carolinensis bongo drums warn that it’s a guerrilla zone that takes no prisoners.

I have mentioned before the thick carpets of aconites that are growing under the mature horse chestnut trees on this estate. This week I discovered that my clients have been actively propagating them for years by spreading the seed.
“Transplanting the plants just doesn’t really work, Fiona. It’s a lot of bother. Much better to harvest and scatter the seed. ”
I continued painting on the top of the step ladder. If I stop working, people stop talking to me.

“How do you do that?”
“Well you have to wait until the seeds are just at the right stage. And then you just spread them where you want the aconites to flowers.”
She threw out her arm like the biblical Sower of the Seed.
“Or you can just strim off the heads if you want them to propagate in the same area. It’s worked very well behind the house.” She mimed the fluid strimming action.
“What’s the right stage?”
“If you are still here, I’ll show you.”

I stopped for a moment and we both gazed at the buoyant carpet of aconites and snowdrops on this side of the hedge.
“The aconites behind the hedge are terrific. I’m thinking of cutting an arch through.”

“The strimmer method works well for snowdrops too, apparently. When the seeds are mature.”
My client is pally with the owners of Chippenham Park and this is what they do sometimes. There is the final snowdrop day at Chipepnham Park tomorrow – well worth a visit.

To clarify my new findings I discovered this detailed article on The Times Online. Once the seeds turn from green to black it’s time to reach for your strimmer or harvest the seeds.

I’ll be definitely trying this later in the spring as our aconites are a bit shy about mingling without introductions in our garden.

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  1. Jays are one of my favourite birds to spot… seeing that flash of blue is always a priveledge…

  2. Thanks – I can see how the confusion arose –
    black birds as opposed to blackbirds! x

  3. Winter aconites are easy yo multiply from seed. Collect as they start to dehisce (seed pod is tan, starts to open) and tan, BB-like seed is ready to drop. I sink a large plastic nursery flat – the kind with an open, diamond-pattern bottom that holds 8 market packs of annuals – in the ground. Fill with good compost, scatter the seed, top-dress, and mulch. In about 3 years the young plants will be flowering size and can easily be moved to a new location. Meanwhile the plastic flat keeps me from digging / disturbing the immature seedlings while dormant.

    Further, both snowdrops and winter aconite are easy to move “in the green”. That is after the flowers fade but before the leaves turn yellow. Dig a trowel’s worth and re-set in perpared soil. Water in with half-strength liquid fertilizer and repeat in two weeks. I like a fertilizer available here in the USA with the analysis 10-30-20. Lower in nitrogen, higher in phosphorus and potash. Liquid, as that is absorbed through the leaves as well as picked up by the roots, quick boost to overcome transplant shock.

    Here’s hoping snowdrops and aconites will soon make an appearance in my garden, where winter is still holding sway.


  4. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Andy and Wendy

    They are large black birds (could thay be rooks?) sorry for the confusion! It was quite late when I wrote that post.

  5. Exactly what I thought straightaway Andy – Blackbirds getting blasted. Couldn’t believe it.
    Loved the rest of your description about all the birds Fiona and the info about the snowdrops. x

  6. “The only wildlife that are not welcome are the squirrels, rabbits and blackbirds that steal the walnuts in the summer. These are all dispatched efficiently and skilfully with shotguns.”

    Umm, surely some mistake here?

    Blackbirds … ?

  7. Hi Fiona, I love these tales.. I imagine grand English manors/estates… Of course living in the newest western country ( think thats right) anything thats older than 200 years is just amazing.

    I have harvested seeds occaionally from my grape hyacinth & scattered it before.. cant be sure of the results yet though. I pulled them out & moved them to another garden this summer.. next spring might show results, though of course I could have left some bulblets behind.

  8. Great tip, thanks Fiona


  9. Oh what a wonderful place to work, you always seem to get these interesting places to add to your portfolio so I was wondering,do you specialise in heritage properties?

    There is nothing quite like the splashes of colour aconites bring to the crisp winter mornings.
    I can only imagine what it must be like to wake up each morning to the view of these enchanting chestnut tree’s, changing gracefully through the seasons.

    “One eyed Pete”(our frequent squirrel visitor) has a particular attatchment to one of my hanging baskets.
    He has exceptional treat burying skills!
    Once I found a whole blueberry muffin complete with case,half buried in the basket. Not bad for a visually impaired squirrel!

    Last summer he all but

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