Saturday, 18 January 2020

Symbols of hope

Single snowdrops reaching for the light

The snowdrops have been pushing up their delicate flowers in the garden for a couple of weeks now. How delicate they are, yet tough enough to force themselves up through soil and leaf-litter, multiplying and competing with other, later plants under trees and shrubs.

There are innumerable different snowdrop species, hybrids and cultivars, of which I grow four – the common single and double forms of the species Galanthus nivalis, the large single species G. elwesei, and the double G. nivalis cultivar ‘Hill Poe’. The latter is a local plant, first discovered by the wife of the Rev James Hill Poe in her Nenagh Rectory garden. The passion of ‘galanthophiles’ – snowdrop collectors - leads them to grow hundreds of different snowdrops, and pay immense sums for a single rare bulb. There are fine collections open to the public in the gardens of Primrose Hill, Lucan, Co Dublin and Altamont, Tullow, Co Carlow. Now is the time to go to see them – but be careful you don’t catch ‘galanthophilia’, which is a disease with no known cure!

Snowdrops are not the only spring flower making an appearance. The first to bloom was the Christmas rose Helleborus niger, of which I picked a small bunch on Christmas morning. Others following on include a particularly early green H. orientalis, the lovely purple Primula vulgaris ssp sibthorpii (a close cousin of our native primrose from the Balkans) and the charming but invasive white periwinkle Vinca major ‘Alba’.

For me all these flowers are symbols of hope in the cold dark days of winter. They remind me that by the grace of God the cycle of life continues to turn. They promise a future cornucopia of beautiful flowers and delicious vegetables as the days lengthen and grow warm. And we need symbols of hope this year more than ever, as we begin to experience the magnitude of the climate crisis.

Christmas roses bloomed on Christmas Day

An early green hellebore

Primula vulgaris ssp. sibthorpii flowers reliably in January

Vincas major 'Alba' is good groundcover, but invasive

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