Tuesday, January 22, 2008
We nearly missed these lovely little snowdrops as we passed them by on our walk this morning. They were well back from the path, under the bare winter trees having pushed themselves up on sturdy yet fragile looking stems through all the dead, brown, damp leaves left from autumn. This was my first sighting of snowdrops this year.
To make a loose connection with my last post on the bulb industry in and around Spalding, snowdrops were one of the first flowers sent, in the 19th century, to the London markets from Spalding and they were sent to be used for medicinal purposes. I couldn't find out what exactly they were used for then but several references said that they were used in pain relief particularly for headaches. More recently extracts from the plants have been used in the making of the drug Reminyl which is used in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease.
I've been reading up on the history of the snowdrop and it is quite fascinating. The first reference to them growing in gardens is in Gerard's Herbal of 1597 and it is generally thought that they were brought into the country during the 15th century from Italy by monks to grow in their monasteries. They must surely have discovered the medicinal benefits of them and grown them in their physic gardens. The first record of snowdrops growing in the wild is as late as 1770 and it is widely accepted that most of the ones found in the wild will have come originally from the cultivated ones.
Not surprisingly there are also lots of folklore tales attached to snowdrops. According to legend snowdrops first appeared when Adam and Eve had been banished from the Garden of Eden into a barren, cold and wintery world, an angel appeared to assure the couple that there was hope, and that spring would come. The angel blew on some snowflakes and they fell as snowdrops. Thus snowdrops are a sign in the bleakest of winter that there is hope and that better times were on the way.
There are lots of superstitions attached to snowdrops too, mostly that it is bad luck to bring them into the house and that a single flower appearing in a garden was thought to foretell impending sadness or disaster. Like other white flowers they were associated with death. My first sighting of snowdrops always gives me the feeling of hope and that their appearance heralds the first death throes of winter, not gone yet, but eventually it will disappear to be replaced by the glories of spring.
I love snowdrops and would like to grow them in the garden. I've tried several times to plant them but in our heavy, damp, potteries clay soil they don't survive so now I seek them out on walks, on roadsides and in local gardens who specialise in growing them and open up trails and walks to the public in February each year. Nearest to us are Rode Hall in Cheshire or Hopton Hall in Derbyshire. Last year we visited Rode so perhaps this year we will visit Hopton.