Stories from the Barn
A hive of activity in the Hampshire downlands
The Snowdrop on Candlemas Day
The Snowdrop the symbol of hope.
“The Snowdrop, in purest white array, First rears her head on Candlemas day.”
The arrival of the Snowdrop is a sign that, although we might still be in the cold grasp of Winter, things are moving forward and Spring cannot be too far away. The glorious white flower always seems to put in an appearance before we’ve even registered that they’ve pushed through the ground.
They have been growing in Britain for at least 1500 years. It is possible that the Romans were responsible for their introduction into Britain. They are native to Europe and the Middle East but so enjoy the British climate, they form fabulous carpets of white. These yearly displays attract visitors from all over the country and lift hearts with their cheering positive colour.
The loveliest flower.
They are such a pretty flower, each plant producing one small white flower, bowing its head towards the ground. It is like a pearl hanging from a clasp of green gold. When the flower opens, the layers of petals become apparent. Three inner petals covered by three outer ones. Different species have different petal markings, exquisite splashes of green or yellow on the white petals.
It puts in an appearance at the end of January or the beginning of February, often hanging their heads from the weight of ice or snow. Sometimes the flower head collapses and all seems lost but then a touch of the snow and this stoical flower lifts itself again.
The National Collection for the Snowdrop – ‘Galanthus nivalis’, can be found at the Cambo Estate in Fife Scotland, where about 350 varieties of the plant can be seen. The under story of the woodland a magical sight, a fairyland almost. The Latin name ‘Galanthus nivalis’ means milk flower of the snow and was so named in 1753 by the botanist and taxononmist Carl Linnaeus.
However one of the best places to see Snowdrops is in the churchyard, where they add cheer amongst the gravestones. Although the Victorians thought it bad luck to see a snowdrop, the meant a death. There are so many in our local church yards, it would have meant an awful lot of deaths but of course January is a time when many die of disease. Coupled with that, they should never be brought inside the house. The Snowdrops would turn the milk sour and leave maids unwed and so on.
Snowdrops and Folktales.
Impossible to think of the Snowdrop as having a negative image. Here is a German tale about the flower that is a bit more cheerful. As with all our plants, mystery and magic abound in how they came to be the shape/colour they are. In this tale, the falling snow was searching for a colour for itself. It loved the beautiful colours of the flowers but they disliked and feared the cold and so refused the snow their bright colours. That is until the snow met the Snowdrop. The Snowdrop felt sorry for the snow, after all they shared the same season and the snow accepted the gift of the colour white. To thank the Snowdrop the snow offered the flower protection against the cold and ice, cloaking it as temperatures dropped.
one Flower, hemmed in with snows and white as they
But hardier far, once more I see thee bend
Thy forehead, as if fearful to offend,
Like an unbidden guest.
William Wordsworth from ‘To a Snow-Drop’