Sandy’s Garden ... The Scottish Snowdrop Festival

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A little more than a week ago I enjoyed a fascinating talk on stained glass windows.

Presented by Dr Iain Galbraith in Kippen Parish Church, it was a fascinating subject. Particularly when it is so entertainingly explained by an enthusiastic expert in a venue with a number of outstanding examples of this branch of artistic endeavour. And how attractive Kippen Parish Church is, albeit not the warmest church I have ever been in! But the rare dry afternoon tempted me to look, in the fading light, into the tempting and extensive church grounds, where the snowdrops were already in bud, their tight, white ‘drops’ hanging still in the cold winter air. And yes, the ‘drop’ in ‘snowdrop’ refers to the shape of the closed flower, the same shape as a drop earring, a teardrop or, indeed, any drop of water.

This sight took me out into my own cold, sodden garden at first light the next morning … for it was virtually dark until gone ten o’clock … to discover that some of my own clusters of these harbingers of spring had ventured to poke their heads above the wet earth, even though they were nowhere near as developed as those in Kippen. I honestly do not know if this is a sign that it is warmer nearer the city of Stirling than it is where I live near the town of Falkirk, if it indicates that Kippen has had less rain than the seemingly constant precipitation which we ‘enjoy’ or if the snowdrops are of an earlier-flowering variety than my own, although I suspect that those at Kippen are, like mine, largely the common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, Galanthus being formed from two Greek words, gala … milk …and anthos … a flower … while nivalis is a Latin word meaning ‘of the snow’.

I think that the real lesson to be learned from the different stages of development of the flowers is that there are no hard-and-fast rules about when snowdrops will bloom. This fact makes the task of the promoters of the Scottish Snowdrop Festival distinctly tricky for, although they give the dates as from February 1st until March 16th, they warn: “Please be aware that dates published for snowdrop openings are ‘general’ as, unfortunately, snowdrops do not flower to order and their flowering can be dependent on which part of the country they are growing in and indeed the variations in our climate.”

So, with that caveat in mind, let’s look at the organisers’ introduction to the event. “As part of Homecoming Scotland , VisitScotland is working with Scotland’s Gardens and Cambo Estate to present the 2014 Scottish Snowdrop Festival which runs from 1 February to 16 March. It features at least 53 venues many of which are free to visit, and between them they will display hundreds of varieties of this delicate white flower.” You’ll find details on the Visit Scotland website … www.visitscotland.com ... and Tourist Information points, but some of the local attractions include Gargunnock Estate, Gargunnock, where we will discover five acres of mature gardens, woodland walks, and a walled garden covered in beautiful snowdrops; Kilbryde Castle, Kilbryde, Dunblane, where we are invited to explore the gardens and grounds above the Ardoch burn and below the castle and see the snowdrops grow during March in the wild garden; and West Plean House, West Plean, where there are woodland walks with snowdrops and a panoramic view over seven counties. The grounds of Gargunnock House are open throughout the festival; Kilbryde Castle expects the grounds to be open on 23 February; and West Plean House expects to open its grounds to the public on 2 March. These are private residences, of course, and there is an admission charge to all three: but there are numerous public areas with free displays of these lovely flowers. And do check with any pay-to-enter venue that the snowdrops are in bloom and that the grounds are open.