Blooms and birds of snow

Posted in All posts, February, on

I have to confess that until this year snowdrops did not thrill me that much. My grandad was crazy for them, and weekends during February we would often visit various woodland glades in Nottingham and Derbyshire to see the naturalised swades of these dainty, ethereal members of the onion family lighting up the leaf litter in force.

At my work place, Newstead Abbey, the historic Monks' Wood where the yews abide gives way in its centre to a mossy lawn where snowdrops have their stronghold. Few records of the botanical exploits from the time of the monks exists, although I'd imagine the Abbey's A-list historic resident – the poet and world-known lover Lord Byron – appreciated their faint honey scent!

These 'flowers of hope' really get people excited and that's what I think I like about them – they excite!

But alas, they can also be the target of peoples greed. At Kew, and many other open gardens where snowdrops are a seasonal highlight, the bulbs can be the target of theft. Huge numbers of bulbs can be ruthlessly swiped within a few moments due to them growing in condensed colonies not very deep from the soils surface. In defence, a number of gardens now choose to plant their bulbs under sheets of wire. Having seen the destruction that plant theft causes first hand at Kew, I fear for the Abbey's little unprotected groups. I scan the ground each day looking for signs of dug up clumps.

The smiles I receive from visitors however, as they recall the visual beauty they have seen, restores my confidence in humanity and so I put out a sign encouraging all our visitors to enjoy what is this time of year's jewel in our floral crown.

Snowdrops, given their small size and fleeting appearance, are considerably expensive and do take a few years to put on a good visual display. Certain species of various doubles, those with perfectly placed green stripes and even ones with a yellowish butter cream hint, are like gold dust to collectors.

If you are absolutely mad on Galanthus then you are classed as a 'galanthrophile'. These fanciers attend the great gathering that is the week-long snowdrop festival held at Shaftesbury in Dorset from the 13th to the  22nd of February. Serious money changes hands here for the latest bred blooms!

Certainly if I had a lawn or a shady bank I'd plant lots of snowdrops. For me, the simple, elegant Galanthus nivalis takes some beating. Planting them in the green gives better results than buying them in the autumn as you don't know how old the bulbs are once they reach the Garden Centre. We have just about a dozen blooming in our back garden, at the very front of the border from a little pot of them bought at this time of year several years ago – elegant and simple, yet a true heart warmer. Oh, and a life saver to any bee silly enough to wake up in the current chilling weather – not bad for just a little onion!

As this post is of a white theme, some of our regular readers will recall my blog about Tracy my white peahen who resides also at the Abbey. Despite their matching pure white attires I doubt she would do the snowdrops much good – large talons and dainty little plants don't really mix!

Tracy now has a companion in the form of a very handsome white peacock whom we have named Spencer. Spencer has settled in very well and Tracy seems contented with him never being far from his side!

Spencer arrived from a peacock breeder in Worcester just before Christmas, in a box with his tail plumes festooning out from a corner. He is the same age as Tracy and, despite his current set of tail feathers being his first and therefore not his best, he has already begun to show off! Tracy should lay eggs this summer so hopefully it won't be too long before we hear the cheeps of peachicks.

Thanks for reading,