Snowdrops, or Galanthus to give them their Latin name, are among the first flowers to pop up in the spring, just ahead of multi-coloured crocuses or the bright yellow winter aconite. Sacred to the Celtic goddess Brigid, they are sometimes referred to as Candlemas Bells, appearing as they do around Candlemas (2nd February).
Although many gardens open to the public have seasonal opening, usually from Easter to autumn, the glory of the snowdrops is such that several will open especially on certain dates during the ‘snowdrop season’. In Scotland, over 50 historic homes, castles and gardens are coming together under the umbrella of the Scottish Snowdrop Festival. Some of the sites are described below.
Snowdrop Gardens in Southern Scotland
Perhaps the star site for snowdrops in this region is the Royal Botanic Garden outpost at Dawyck, some 20 miles south of Edinburgh. Primarily a woodland garden famed for its range of native and North American trees, Dawyck is open all year from February to November. Through the middle of the garden the Scrape Burn runs through a wooded glen and it’s here that the snowdrops are at their most spectacular.
The National Trust for Scotland has several properties in the south of Scotland. Those worthy of particular note include the ‘hidden gem’ of a garden, nestled on the banks of the river at the artist EA Hornel’s former home in Kirkcudbright.
Also owned by the NTS is the stunning stately home of Culzean Castle. The cliff top property is surrounded by a country park where snowdrop-spotters can ramble through 600 acres of woodland. There’s a wildlife garden and a walled garden as well. The castle is open from Easter-October but the surrounding gardens, together with the visitor centre and restaurant, are open all year.
Snowdrop Gardens in Central Scotland
Cambo Gardens, just outside St Andrews in Fife, has gardens where snowdrops are a particular specialism. With over 70 acres of woodland walks, the estate and the drive leading up to it are carpeted in the beautiful white flowers. The woodland garden has displays many different species of snowdrop, some of which are in bloom as early as October, although the main snowdrop season is February.
Two of the best places to see carpets of snowdrops are located close to each other just to the west of Edinburgh. Though neither Dalmeny estate nor Hopetoun House estate is officially open to the public in the winter, both make special efforts to accommodate visitors:
Dalmeny estate sets the date for its Snowdrop Day only two week beforehand, so as to ensure optimum timing. There are vast quantities of snowdrops in the grounds and, though there is little else to see in February, the tearoom will be open for refreshments.
In the west of the central belt, Greenbank Garden in Glasgow is worth a visit. Also an NTS property, Greenbank is an educational garden, with over 3,700 different plants in total. It is open daily all year round and has a shop and tearoom. Snowdrops, along with winter aconites, are a popular feature of the winter garden.
Snowdrop Gardens North of the Central Belt
North of the central belt the snowdrop gardens are fewer in number, though their displays are no less spectacular. National Trust for Scotland properties at Crathes Castle claims to be one of the best places for snowdrops in Aberdeenshire, and the Trust also has extensive gardens with snowdrops at the house of Dun, near Montrose.
In Perthshire, Scone Palace grounds will be open for visitors to enjoy the hundred acres or more of gardens and woodlands, complete with woodland walk and walled garden. There are refreshments re available, and there is a gift shop. At Cluny House, in Aberfeldy, the garden is not officially open but visitors are welcome and invited to leave an ‘honesty box’ donation towards the cost of food for the wild birds and red squirrels.
Although snowdrops aren’t native to Scotland, they have easily adapted to the climate and, as can be seen, are easily naturalised. As well as gardens and parks, they have run wild in managed woodlands and in many arts of the country can be seen lying in green and white drifts by the side of the road.