There’s something about snowdrops.  Whether they’re in gardens, at the side of the road, or carpeting the woods, that flash of white speaks of spring and renewal – and hope rekindled.  And unlike the real thing, which can look wonderful at first but usually then quickly turns to slush or ice, snowdrops bloom brightly and then fade quietly away disappearing completely, bothering nobody.  There’s never any disruption, traffic chaos or missed days at school and work.  No loss to the economy, just nature’s beauty to raise the spirits, and say it’s time to get out more.

Snowdrops are native to Europe, but not to Britain, and were probably introduced around 500 years ago.  There are about 20 species occurring naturally, but well over 350 cultivated varieties.  If they’re not in gardens, they will probably be the common, self-naturalising snowdrop with its neat bobbing head of pure white with that flash of green at the ends of the three inner petals.  It seems likely, though, that all snowdrops seen in the wild are garden escapees, spread by birds scratching the soil, dispersing the bulbs.  They have everyday names as striking as the flower, including Fair Maids of February, and Candlemas Bells, and are common in folklore and legend.

Some great houses and estates specialise in snowdrop displays in February and March.  The Courts, at Holt, is one of these, as well as Lacock Abbey and Great Chalfield Manor.  But maybe it’s just as good to wander through the village where you’ll find them on grass verges and under hedges.  They were late coming this year, or so This is Bath says.  Is this because of climate change, or just the long cold winter?  Time will tell.

Unsurprisingly, the English romantic poets loved snowdrops just because they were such dramatic indicators of change.  Here’s a different perspective from Ted Hughes who reminds us just how much of a problem a long cold winter can be if you’re out there, just trying to make it through, and how tough you have to be, even if you’re a … Snowdrop

Now is the globe shrunk tight
Round the mouse’s dulled wintering heart. 

Weasel and crow, as if moulded in brass, 

Move through an outer darkness
Not in their right minds,
With the other deaths.  
She, too, pursues her ends, 

Brutal as the stars of this month, 

Her pale head heavy as metal.

April 2010

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