THEY are a welcome sight to most people, marking the fact that spring is in the air.
But for some, the appearance of the snowdrop in our gardens, parks and woodlands means far more than just that.
Surprising as it may sound, the humble little white flower has an incredible fanbase, with snowdrop lovers – or galanthophiles as they are known – travelling around the world to view particular collections and gaze in wonderment at the carpeted forest floors.
So it is no surprise that there is a festival dedicated to the springtime flower, with more than 60 venues across the country taking part to showcase what Scotland has to offer.
The Scottish Snowdrop Festival, which runs from today until March 15, will see galanthophiles flock to Edinburgh and the Lothians to visit venues including Kevock Road Gardens in Lasswade, Shepherd House in Musselburgh, Hopetoun House in South Queensferry and the Royal Botanic Garden in Inverleith.
Many of the gardens are opening especially for the festival, including both private collections and places which are usually closed in winter.
Shepherd House Garden, for example, is considered to be one of the finest small gardens in the country.
Visitors will have the opportunity to discover this artist-designed acre of flora and marvel at specialist species in the snowdrop theatre.
“People who love snowdrops are called galanthophiles and they will travel from all over the world to see them,” explains Paddy Scott, chief executive of Scotland’s Gardens, which has organised the festival in association with VisitScotland and Cambo Estate.
“Shepherd House has a very fine collection of snowdrops, and many variations. Kevock Road Gardens is owned by people who have a very interesting nursery and a good collection of snowdrops.
“In both these places, you will see an interesting display.
“There are two kinds of people who will be interested in taking part in the festival. There are those who are interested in the gardens and looking at a very fine collection. And then there are those who visit properties which have gardens which are mostly woodland and are just carpeted in white snowdrops.
“People go to the gardens if they are interested in snowdrops, and there are lots of people who are – there is a huge following. And those who go to the woodlands are those who want to go out into the countryside and have a lovely walk and see those heavenly flowers.
“They are very special flowers and are the first flowers that come out en masse.”
David Knott, curator of the Living Collection at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE), explains the significance of the snowdrop dates back some time.
“In European history, cultivated snowdrops date back to Medieval times and signify the start of the transition period between winter and spring,” he says. “Once more commonly known as the Candlemas Bells, they have delicate a beauty and were often viewed as an emblem of purity, widely seen in monasteries and country estates.
“Today, the common snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) grows in such profusion in Britain that people are often surprised to learn certain species in the family are endangered in other countries.
“The truth is, there are no native species to the UK and bulbs are thought to have been introduced around the 1770s.
“However, with so many evocative stories surrounding them and the growing number of varieties available – each with its own distinctive characteristics – snowdrops have secured a very strong place in the hearts of the public.”
The RBGE has an “enviable” collection of snowdrops and visitors in search of the plant will be able to marvel at the spectacle during the festival.
Snowdrop and early spring walks are being held from February 13 to March 8 at the Inverleith venue.
“The snowdrop is a hugely popular little plant and has been collected and celebrated for hundreds of years,” explains RBGE’s director of enterprise, Heather Jackson. “Galanthophiles, as snowdrop enthusiasts are known, will go to great lengths to seek out the best displays.
“Not only do our visitors get the chance to see the Botanics’ collection of snowdrops over the next few weeks, they are also able join our knowledgeable Garden Guides on a walk through the Inverleith site to learn more about them.
“This is the perfect opportunity for people to get outdoors into the fresh spring air and enjoy all the splendours nature has to offer at this time of year.”
Where and when you can see the Lothians’ finest collections of snowdrops
Royal Botanic Garden: Feb 13-Mar 8
Join a Garden Guide on a walk to discover the Botanics’ wonderful collection of specialist snowdrops. You can also discover other early flowering plants that herald the onset of spring.
Hopetoun House: February 15
150 acres of rolling parkland which includes several walks and two nature trails with views over the deer park and the River Forth. Tea, coffee and bakery goods available.
Shepherd House: February 21-22
Discover this walled artist’s garden with a formal rill, potagers woodland and bulb areas. The snowdrops are grown in beds and borders, with a growing collection of specialist snowdrops, of around 40 different cultivars, some of which will be displayed in the snowdrop theatre.
Kevock Road Gardens: March 1
Wide range of snowdrops and other early spring-flowering bulbs and primulas. Several gardens will be open, including Kevock Garden and Greenfield Lodge.
For full details of the Scottish Snowdrop Festival, visit wwww.visitscotland.com.