After long, dark months snowdrops are the yearned for sight which heralds the arrival of spring.
Flowering in winter, when the ground is often still frozen or covered in snow, the appearance of these bulbous herbaceous plants is celebrated every year by VisitScotland’s Snowdrop Festival.
Now in its eight year, the event includes National Trust for Scotland properties in the Lothians.
Partictipating venues include Kevock Gardens in Lasswade, which offers a wide range of snowdrops and other early flowering bulbs and primulas.
Also taking part are Hopetoun House in South Queensferry and Shepherd House in Inveresk, which has a growing collection of specialist plants, around 40 different cultivars at present, some of which will be on display in the Snowdrop Theatre.
Across the country, around 300 varieties of the tiny white flowers will be on display in 50 different locations, from castle grounds and country estates, to woodlands and private gardens.
“At this time of year, when we’re just coming out of winter, a lot of people might not think of going out to visit the gardens around them,” says head gardener David Ferguson, who has been preparing for the festival. “What this festival does is highlight that there are these wonderful flowers out there.
“It’s when you see snowdrops that you know that spring is on the way – they are the iconic flower of the season.”
Special walks to showcase the snowdrops have been planned at two properties known for their carpets of the diminutive bloom.
Newhailes near Musselburgh has a collection of snowdrops and an expert is on hand to help identify them. The grounds, pictured below, also hold other signs of nature’s winter activity with a variety of flora and fauna, offering a fascinating walk through the woodlands and grasslands.
The House of Binns near Linlithgow will be surrounded by some beautiful drifts of snowdrops.
Some are taller than others, some have different lengths of petal, or slightly different shades of leaves.
While many people have a single idea of what a snowdrop looks like, the flowers are surprisingly varied in height, flower size, shape and even colouring.
Around 20 species grow in the wild, although many more hybrid versions have been created by specialist growers over the years, and more than 300 varieties will be on display at the festival.
Dozens of species of snowdrops, or galanthus, are available from specialist nurseries.
Most galanthus, meaning milk flower and also known as February fairmaids, are white and green.
The flower is said to be the first sign of life after the harsh winter, making it an encouraging sight.
But in other cultures, it is believed they denote death and should never be brought into the house.
Both perspectives could have been gleaned from when Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden.
The story goes that as they stood freezing in the snow, an angel appeared and told them not to worry because there would be new life, before turning every drop of snow into a flower.
Snowdrops came back in to fashion around ten years ago, and today, rarer varieties can fetch quite a price.
In 2012, a “mutant” snowdrop, which was cultivated by accident by an elderly couple in Perthshire, fetched £725 on an online auction site.
The unusual flower, with a yellow head and yellow markings on white petals, was spotted among the more common green and white varieties.
But with snowdrops suddenly becoming so valuable many collectors are now hiring security guards or using tags to protect their rare species, which are becoming increasingly popular.
“Depending on the time of year, you see the differences and the different types of snowdrop, the more common ones and the more elaborate ones,” says David.
“The festival will give people an opportunity to get outside and see these beautiful flowers, and it also gives gardeners a chance to price them.
“Anyone who enjoys the outdoors will enjoy coming along to see the snowdrops – when you see them en masse, they are really quite stunning.”
The Visit Scotland Snowdrop Festival runs until Sunday, March 16.
For more information, visit www.visitscotland.com.