Yesterday Emi and I headed over to Osterley Park with Maxi, the Wonder Dog, for a bit of a race around. It was a truly glorious morning: blue skies and sunshine with the mercury pushing up towards something approaching a hospitable temperature. It felt like maybe, just maybe, spring had sprung.
I've written about Osterley Park many times before. It's our local National Trust property, and I absolutely love it. It's where we come when we need a spot of fresh air and don't want to travel very far to inhale it.
After we'd given the Wonder Dog a race round the park we decided to head into the gardens to see what how the spring flowers were getting along.
We were delighted to see drifts of snowdrops encircling the trees.
They really were pretty. I think we'd inadvertently caught them at their best.
I love the snowdrops. They make my spirits soar. After the long haul of winter and the dreary grey of January they are such a welcome sight. Much as I love them, however, it would never occur to me to pull some and bring them inside. I remember as a child my grandparents' lawn used to turn white with snowdrops. They'd been growing there since forever and had spread around this way and that until they covered the grass with their floral snow, but whenever I asked to pick some to bring inside my Grandma would gently, but firmly, say no, adding that it would be unlucky to do so.
And so the lovely snowdrops remained outside, and we admired them from afar.
This superstition seems to be one that many people in other parts of the country shared. It was commonly believed that to bring a posy of snowdrops into your house was an invitation for death to follow. Perhaps this was because they were planted by the Victorians on the graves of their loved ones, and hence they became tainted by association with the churchyard. Others have sought to explain the superstition by suggesting that the small white petals resemble a shroud. Speaking for myself I find it difficult to see anything shroud-like in the delicate beauty of the snowdrop, but each to their own as they say.
In earlier ages they were known as Candlemas Bells owing to how they were normally in bloom on Candlemas Day, the second of February, when people traditionally celebrated the Virgin's ritual purification 40 days after the birth of Jesus. As a result, in religious art, they were sometimes used as the symbol of the Virgin; their lowered heads a reminder of the Virgin's sorrow at the Crucifixion.
Snowdrops are not native to our shores. It's thought that they were first introduced by Italian monks who carried them from their homeland to plant around the Cistercian houses of pre-Reformation England. This would mean they probably arrived here in the twelfth or thirteenth century when the great age of monastery-building was underway, and large numbers of people in Holy Orders were flooding into the country to assist with their foundation.
Perhaps those early monks carried them along as part of their medicine chests. In the Middle Ages snowdrop bulbs were sometimes used as a rub-on treatment for headaches and as an antidote to certain poisons. In the Caucuses people have long believed that they would remain young and retain the full sharpness of their mental faculties if they ate the odd snowdrop bulb. Modern medicine has vindicated their faith in the health-giving properties of the snowdrop, having established that the chemical galantamine, present in the snowdrop bulbs, helps to arrest the progress of Alzheimer's disease.
Osterley has a very special winter garden, where there are a great many other things vying with the snowdrops for your attention. I enjoyed admiring its fine bones. My mum always says that a good garden stands out in winter as you get to see all the underlying shapes and the structural backdrop when the leaves fall. She's not wrong. The centre of the garden (above) has been skilfully designed so that your eye travels on into the middle distance, between the trees and along the grassy path. I also love how they've used the red dog wood to add a dash of colour on the left hand side.
I loved the dwarf irises ...
... the hellebores ...
.. and the crocus ...
... and I was blown away to find a sheltered bank, where a few daffodils were stealing a march and already blowing their trumpets ... .
All things told it was a very fine stroll.
All the best for now,