Concerning Snowdrops

Double snowdrops in Sawpole Plantation
Double snowdrops in Sawpole Plantation, Beachamwell.  Photo: Sue Pennell

Constance Villiers-Stuart achieved a degree of fame with her pioneering and influential book  Gardens of the Great Mughals published in 1913 and followed this with Spanish Gardens in 1929. In later life her interest in plants and gardens continued in several directions: with her own garden at Beachamwell Hall – which she opened regularly to the public; as President of the East of England Flower Clubs; organising flower arrangements at Lynn Festivals and lecturing widely on floral topics. In her eighties she travelled to Russia to see the recently restored Peterhof  Gardens at St. Petersburg. During the 1940s and 50s she also wrote regularly for the Eastern Daily Press. Here is a typical, and seasonal, article which appeared in the EDP on 6 February 1951:

Just when everything is feeling dull and flat, and the winter and cold spring stretches interminably ahead, the first snowdrop appears. Walking under the beech trees to escape the bitter wind, a gleam of sunshine catches the tiny green spears pushing up through the russet red of last year’s leaves, a most rewarding sight. A mild day or two and the snow seems to have fallen again in drifts and patches all over the woods.

It is difficult to realise that snowdrops are not English wild flowers, they are so plentiful in some places. They must have been loved and brought here long ago, for wherever there has once been a habitation, a cottage or little farm, when all other trace is lost, there are the snowdrops and a sheltering yew.

The Dutch flower painter Jacobus van Huysum, in his famous series of the months, places a few slender bells, with a prized winter pear, on the balustrade in front of his January bouquet. Most likely it was the Romans who first brought them here, as well as the pheasants who share the beech woods. They found these flowers in Greece and on the very top of Mount Kotos, in the wild country outside the port of Salonika, they grow luxuriantly as our troops in the 1914 war found to their surprise. [Constance’s husband Lt-Col Patrick Villiers-Stuart was at Salonika.]

These bulbs, unlike other bulbs, cannot be forded with success. Dug up, put into pots and brought into the house they grow tall and leggy, all leaf and green stalk. Aconites look well treated in this way , especially in a shallow bright blue bowl, where their short stalks and round golden heads show to advantage, but snowdrops transplanted are disappointing.

Perhaps the best way to arrange snowdrops indoors is to pick them and tie them in little bunches surrounded with a frill of bronze ivy leaves. It is a tiring occupation all this bending down and that may be one reason why one rarely sees these flowers used in any great quantity. However arranged snowdrops can look most decorative. If enough bunches are picked and place in a cut-glass bowl with a spray of ivy leaves to form a handle, a very attractive centre-piece can be devised. Soon the bright hyacinths, daffodils and tulips will fill our rooms and a whole year of gay flowers will go round before we remember and again enjoy the delicate snowdrops that defy the cold winter.

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