The snowdrop – a flower not to be trifled with

Flowering at a time when pretty much nothing else is in bloom, snowdrops inevitably capture the imagination of all who encounter them in the British countryside. The ‘Fair Maids of February’ reassure us that the bleak midwinter is passing, and more congenial times lie ahead. Poets heap praise upon these humble harbingers of spring’s awakening, while storytellers speculate about their origins. Who doesn’t love a snowdrop?

Dimminsdale Nature Reserve, 2019

Interestingly, although snowdrops are widely distributed and recognised throughout the UK, they aren’t native to these islands. They originated in the damp woodlands and meadows of continental Europe, and were brought here – probably in the sixteenth century – to grace the estates of the idle rich. However these private collections inevitably ‘leaked’ into the surrounding countryside, and by the late 18th century the flower was reported as growing wild. Now completely naturalised, snowdrops can be found in shady woodland, on country estates and along river banks all over the country.

Hodsock Priory, 2016

Snowdrops are also a common sight in graveyards, and this could be the reason why they’re sometimes associated with ill-fortune and even death. In Victorian times it was widely believed that you should avoid bringing snowdrops into your house. If you disobeyed this rule the consequences could range from your milk turning sour to a member of your family dropping dead within a year. Plainly the snowdrop isn’t a flower to be trifled with!

Although these days we happily dismiss such dire warnings as fanciful nonsense, it’s worth noting that snowdrops are poisonous due to high concentrations of phenanthridine alkaloids, particularly in the bulbs. Now, I haven’t a clue what a phenanthridine alkaloid is, but (just like the average beer-swilling Saturday night out during my student days) it’s known to cause confusion, poor coordination, drooling, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhoea and seizures. I humbly conclude that excessive student partying and eating snowdrops are both best avoided!

Hopton Hall, 2017

Paradoxically although some people make a connection between snowdrops and death, others view them as symbols of hope. The reason, I suppose, is that they show themselves just as winter’s drawing to a close, and their appearance is a sure sign that the days are getting both longer and warmer, and that spring will soon arrive.

It’s for just this reason that, around about now every year, Mrs P and I traditionally mark the changing of the seasons by taking a trip to one of our local snowdrop hotspots. These include the gardens of Hopton Hall, an 18th-century country house in Derbyshire, the Dimminsdale Nature Reserve on Derbyshire’s border with Leicestershire, and two estate gardens in Nottinghamshire, at Hodsock Priory and Felley Priory. Each boasts a fine display of snowdrops, and looks splendid on a crisp and sunny February day

Dimminsdale Nature Reserve, 2019

Sadly, to visit one of these snowdrop havens in 2021 would contravene the government’s strict Covid lockdown rules and invite a fine of £200 (each!) from the local constabulary. Instead, we’ve had to get our annual snowdrop fix from Mrs P’s excellent photos and a small clump that survives against all odds in our unkempt front garden. Ah well, there’s always next year I suppose, once Covid’s back in its box.

Felley Priory, 2017

21 comments

  1. krikitarts · March 3

    Let’s hear it for the lovely snowdrops–I just love your wider Dimminsdale image with the old fence, and happy spring to you (and, of course, autumn to us)!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · March 3

      Thank you. Mrs P took the photo ( I mainly take video, and snowdrops aren’t a great subject…a bit too static!) and she was ‘reet chuffed.’ as they say around these parts, to receive your positive feedback! Europeans have brought countless plants to NZ to remind them of home, so I’m guessing you have snowdrops, at least in people’s gardens if not growing wild?

      Liked by 1 person

      • krikitarts · March 3

        Proper (Galanthus) snowdrops, which occur naturally throughout Europe and down through the Mediterranean, are readily available here. Interestingly, though, according to jury.co.nz, “what is often referred to as a snowdrop in New Zealand is an entirely different family. The leucojum is much stronger growing, often found in old homestead paddocks, associating with daffodils. It has the little cup without the surrounding skirt of petals and is less refined than a proper snowdrop. Notwithstanding that, it is an under-rated garden plant with a very long flowering season. But it is a snowflake not a snowdrop.”

        Liked by 1 person

      • Platypus Man · March 4

        At a glance and to the untrained eye (ie mine!) galanthus and leojocum do look quite similar. Leojocum is also known here as a ‘summer snowflake’ although I think it flowers mid to late spring rather than in the height of summer. Good looking flower, but not as spectacular as those vast blankets of snowdrops that grace our woodlands in February.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Laurie Graves · March 3

    Those snowdrops are glorious! I have never seen drifts of them in Maine, although they might exist somewhere in the state. Sorry that you can’t go to your favorite snowdrop haunts. Covid-19 is the gift that keeps taking.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · March 3

      Hopefully by the time the 2022 snowdrop season is with us, Covid will just be a distant and fading memory. Or am I being just a bit too optimistic about that? Let’s hope I’m right.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Paddy Tobin · March 3

    We, dear wife and I, have for many years harboured the wish to travel around snowdrop locations in the UK but have been nervous of travelling at that time of year – a fear of snow, icy roads, crossing the Irish Sea etc. You are fortunate to be able to visit such locations! Many thanks for the report!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · March 3

      It’s a shame you can’t get over to have a look at some of our snowdrop hotspots, but I guess they are quite similar to those that are accessible to you in Ireland, I can fully understand your reluctance to cross the Irish Sea at this time of year- it’s not something I’d do either!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Paddy Tobin · March 3

        We have very very few locations which compare with the sheets of snowdrops we see in your photographs so would love to travel to visit – we’ll get a move on at some stage!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Platypus Man · March 4

        I do hope you make it one day. I’m sure you’d have a great visit!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Paddy Tobin · March 4

        We always do – Garden-visiting holidays to the UK have been regular events with us. We spend ages researching and planning the visits, checking routes, postal codes, putting it all into a Google map for ease of navigation etc etc – and, of course, a good hotel and restaurants for the evenings.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Platypus Man · March 4

        Chances are you’d make it through a February trip without encountering snow – we don’t get much these days, courtesy of climate change. But inevitably there’s a slight risk, so if you’re able to build a bit of flexibility into your itinerary it would enable you – if necessary – to hole up somewhere for a couple of days until the roads are cleared and normality returns. Snow can be beautiful when viewed from the comfort of a decent hotel serving decent food!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Paddy Tobin · March 4

        and drink – essential for any “hole-up”!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Platypus Man · March 4

        You can obviously read my mind 🍺🍷🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Steve Gingold · March 3

    Wow, those are a special woodland blanket. We have a couple in the yard but they’ve not spread. I’d happily cede the lawn to these.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · March 3

      Yes, individual snowdrops are delicate and pretty, but a mass of them carpeting a woodland floor is a spectacular sight.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. thelongview · March 3

    How pretty!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Monica Singh · March 4

    Perfectly captured the delicate and pretty Snowdrops.

    Like

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