March traditionally heralds the start of Spring, and it is a month that marks quite a few other celebrations including St David’s Day in Wales, St Patrick’s Day in Northern Ireland, and Mothering Sunday.
Probably the most anticipated event is when the clocks go forward one hour, making our days feel longer and lighter. I have already seen plenty of people in shorts and T-shirts, though I still stick with the ne’er cast a clout ‘til May be out, so you won’t be seeing my lily-white legs anytime soon.
But what you will see is, and if you are a galanthophile, you will be on the lookout for, the purest, positively virgin white of the humble snowdrop.
This unassuming signature of spring that bows its head to yield to the icy blast of a late winter wind, can be found on roadside verges just as happily as being in the gardens of a stately home, such is its majesty.
But these seemingly fragile and dainty harbingers are surprisingly robust, managing to thrust their way up and out of the solid winter earth then sometimes continuing to push their way through icy layers of snow, and if there is a late snow, they can withstand being buried in a fresh layer and below zero temperatures without so much as batting a graceful eyelid. That’s because they have ‘anti-freeze’ proteins that protect the plant cells from damage, and their leaves have specially hardened tips that help them break through frozen soil.
The petals are also sensitive to temperature change and when the air temperature is above 10°, the petals move up and outwards, opening the flowers for pollinating insects.
You may also be surprised to hear there are hundreds of different species of the Galanthus genus, the only common factor being, they are all white. But there are some subtle differences between the varieties, and you may need to get down on your hands and knees to appreciate them.
There are 44 different types of snowdrops according to Cambridge University Botanic Garden. Try Wendy or Wandlebury yellows, or how about Kite or Merlin? The names suggest a special feature or remembering a special place or person.
Other names include the sweet-scented Sam Arnott, Heffalump and Comet. Most snowdrops flower before the Spring Equinox and there have even been poems written about them including William Wordsworth who wrote:
Lone Flower, hemmed in with snows and white as they
But hardier far, once more I see they bend
But how has this ubiquitous and stout little flower so admired by poets and gardeners alike, come to represent the end of a bitter English winter?
In truth the snowdrop is something of a recent foreign import and probably made its way to our shores around the early 16th century, having been brought home by mercenary soldiers. But new species are still being discovered, the most recent being made in 2019, the Galanthus bursanus that was found in the Marmara Sea region in Turkey by Dr Yildiz Konca.
You may also be surprised to hear they can fetch huge sums of money. On 21 February 2022, a single new snowdrop bulb sold for £1,850. The Galanthus plicatus or ‘Golden Tears’ was bred by Joe Sharman of Monksilver Nursery, and it can reach 25cm in height.
So if you are looking for something a bit different to treat your mother to this Mothering Sunday, whilst you may not be able to afford a Golden Tear, you could take her along to some of the beautiful displays including Kingston Lacey in Dorset or Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk.
Here is Country Living’s 20 best places in the UK to see snowdrops.