Updated: Aug 23, 2021
We have never really considered ourselves 'flower people'.
Don't get us wrong: you'll often find a few daffodils bringing their burst of Spring freshness to the living room in March, and we usually have a rotating display of wild flowers from the neighbourhood or garden around the house. But that arcane knowledge of flower names that was so much a part of our parents' and grandparents' generations seems to have fallen on barren soil, and the interest in blooms - grown or purchased purely to look pretty in a vase - never really took root.
We were a little surprised, therefore, to find ourselves - giddy with excitement - rushing around the gardens at Anglesey Abbey in search of snowdrops.
There is something unique about the place of snowdrops in the British national psyche. This unassuming little flower has become a symbol of the English country house, and - by extension - the National Trust, which celebrates the appearance of this little white flower across many of its properties in late-Winter. We even have a word for it: 'galanthophile' - described by the Oxford English Dictionary as "chiefly British" - means "a collector of or expert on snowdrops".
The snowdrops at Anglesey Abbey took us a little by surprise when we visited; as did the crowds! An impromptu trip on our day off work, we had intended to spend most of the mild winter day inside the National Trust property rather than outside in the cold, but on arrival we were immediately directed to the Winter Garden. It looked like everybody was heading the same direction, so we asked: why such fuss over the Winter Garden? The snowdrops, of course - this is our busiest time of year. Having never really seen more than a handful of snowdrops in one place, we thought: why not?
We were more than compensated for our chilly detour: Anglesey Abbey is apparently home to more than 300 varieties of snowdrop, many of which were discovered at the property and are named after people associated with the house. We can't quite agree whether we're more impressed by the delicate simplicity of a single suspended snowdrop, poised as though frozen while dancing, or the hypnotic, disorienting carpets of identical flowers like snow drifts under the trees. It is strange how the fragile modesty becomes excessive and indulgent when seen en masse.
Unsurprisingly, the snowdrop has formed the basis of much folklore and myth-making. It’s Latin name, Galanthus, means ‘milk-flower’, and has often been associated with hope and purity. Catching sight of this apparently delicate bloom when the wind is howling and the skies are grey, we can't help but agree: a symbol of patience and resilience, and a reminder that brighter and warmer days are coming.
The other name for the tender snowdrop, on the other hand, is the "death flower". It was a commonly held Victorian belief that to cut snowdrops and bring them into your house was an ill omen - at worst they could bring death on a member of the family, and they would at least sour your milk and butter: you have been warned!
Hans Christian Andersen dedicated a full fairytale to the gentle bloom called (originally) "The Snowdrop", containing this wonderful scene in which the humble flower finds the strength to break through the snow and into the sunlight:
And the Flower stirred and stretched itself within the thin rind which the water had softened from without, and the snow and the earth had warmed, and the Sunbeam had knocked at; and it shot forth under the snow with a greenish-white blossom on a green stalk, with narrow thick leaves, which seemed to want to protect it. The snow was cold, but was pierced by the Sunbeam; therefore it was easy to get through it; and now the Sunbeam came with greater strength than before.
"Welcome, welcome!" sang and sounded every ray; and the Flower lifted itself up over the snow into the brighter world. The Sunbeams caressed and kissed it, so that it opened altogether, white as snow, and ornamented with green stripes. It bent its head in joy and humility.
So, while you won't catch us risking our lives by cutting any blooms to decorate the house, snowdrops have become something of a fascination for us. We struggle to walk past a swathe of snowdrops without rushing over to admire, and we have more photographs of these little white flowers than we know what to do with! But we are sure most of the pictures will be making an appearance on our Instagram over the coming weeks!