Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Snowdrops and other excuses for a day out

The snowdrop season is upon us; indeed it has been lurking in the wings for some time. The Royal Horticultural Society sent me this photograph of snowdrops in bloom at Rosemoor in Devon around Christmastime, I seem to recall, and the January edition of The Garden, the RHS journal, has Silvertreedaze writing on the subject.
Although you now find snowdrops in the wild, they are not technically British native flowers. They've been here at least since the 18th century, however, and many people believe they were introduced during the Middle Ages. Whatever their origins, they are now widely naturalised, popping up in woodlands and churchyards all over the British Isles.
I like snowdrops, but I'm not obsessive about them. My favourite is the Turkish Galanthus elwesii, for the fairly crude reason that they are big - up to 30cm (1ft) tall. I don't like growing things I can't see without my varifocals. As for all those cultivars that are yellow, or green, or crinkly, or deformed in some way, my overwhelming reaction is ... why?
Some people are fanatical about them, I know - and you can bet anything you like that the RHS Plant and Design Show in London on 14-15 February will be full of galanthophiles, pushing and shoving to get at the choicest new varieties.
For a lot of people, however, including me, snowdrops are not about growing flowers, but seeing them. I have the same reaction to bluebell woods in May, or primroses in early spring - I get a tremendous thrill when I see plants happily doing (if you'll forgive the cliche) what comes naturally.
I love the idea of snowdrop days and bluebell walks, because it is the perfect excuse to get out into a more natural landscape. Deciduous woodland is fast becoming an endangered commodity here in the UK, so anything that helps people appreciate it is fine by me. (OK, a lot of those snowdrop bulbs in NGS gardens that open at this time of year have been planted by some dedicated owner, but the effect is of a wild, woodland garden.)
Perhaps we all have some primeval need to go out and mark the passing of the seasons in this way. Perhaps there is some primeval need just to go into the woods from time to time. Whatever it is, I'm going to enjoy going on my snowdrop outing.
I don't care if what I'm looking at is 'Magnet' or G. Atkinsii, or G. plicatus or G. caucasicus or whatever. So long as I see a sea of white flowers and smell fresh air, I'll be quite happy.