In the Victorian language of flowers Snowdrops represent hope and it is very easy to see why that would be. In the depths of January they start to emerge from the frozen ground, when there is very little else around; these tiny pure white and dark green flowers come blinking into the light. They prefer sheltered spots preferably in the roots of trees and they quietly arrive, sometimes in ones and twos but often in drifts and they lift the hearts of all that see them. I found my first ones in the garden this morning.
Galanthophile is the technical term for a snowdrop enthusiast and currently there is an absolute craze for these modest flowers; Walsingham Abbey lost 13,000 of them to determined thieves, who fortunately were brought to book. Single bulbs of new or rare specimens will change hands for thousands of pounds, impatient enthusiasts have been known to dig in the garden to find the emerging tips in the spring.
Snowdrops were planted on the graves of loved ones, they were also planted along the pathway to the outdoor privy, their white heads lighting the way in the dark. Churches were decorated with snowdrops at candlemas (February 2nd). Probably because there was little else about, but also it is the festival of the Purification and these pristine little flowers reflect this.
If snowdrops came out in August we wouldn’t think twice about them; but they are here now and it is this that gives us hope that things are getting better. In the same way that planting bulbs in the autumn is an act of hope and faith in the coming of the spring.
At the moment we need all of this, we all knew that this winter was going to be dark and difficult and it has exceeded expectations. Who knows when this lockdown will end? But we do have a vaccine and with that and everyone playing their part, plus the gradually warming and lengthening days the situation will improve.
It is these tiny signals that help us sustain hope when things seem very dark and the snowdrop is one of those tiny signals.
At once a voice arose among the bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong of joy, illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt and small in blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul upon the growing gloom.
So little cause for carolings of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things afar or nigh around.
That I could think there trembled through his happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew and I was unaware.
The Darkling Thrush Thomas Hardy
If you would like to know more about snowdrops listen to Open Country Radio 4 16th Jan and hear the marvellous Alan Street talking about them.