Fair Maids of February (Snowdrops)

. . . Brother; joy to you!
I’ve brought some snowdrops; only just a few,
Cheerful and hopeful in the frosty dew
And for the pale sun’s sake.

–“The Months”, Christina Rossetti

The number of common names for snowdrops (Galanthus spp.) may be an indication of their lasting popularity. These little white flowers have been called procession flowers, snow bells, fair maids of February and snow piercers. In my garden, it would be more apt to call them “leaf piercers”. I’ve been moving them around in past years, trying to establish little colonies in different parts of the garden, and they are now piercing through a mulch of leaves and coming into bloom. I’ve found snowdrops undemanding and easy to grow, although it is amazing how deeply I’ve had to dig to transplant them after they’ve finished flowering.

Snowdrops have also been called Candlemas bells and purification flowers. On the Welsh borders, it was believed that if a person picked a bowl of snowdrops and brought them to a house on Candlemas, the home and everything in it would be purified.

In the language of flowers, the meaning of snowdrop is “hope” or “consolation”. Seeing these first flowers of the year certainly does herald the approach of spring, bringing hope to the heart and consolation at the end of the cold, grey winter.

Perhaps in years to come the snowdrop will also come to be associated with “remembrance” or “recollection”, since galantamine, an alkaloid obtained from the bulbs and flowers of Galanthus Caucasicus, is being used to treat Alzheimer’s disease and other memory impairments.

A few Galanthus varieties (from "A - Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants: Canadian Edition")

I wouldn’t call myself a galanthophile. I stick to the easily obtainable, common sorts of snowdrops and don’t chase after any of the hundreds of cultivars that inspire such yearning in the true snowdrop lover. I’m certainly not tempted, even if I had the wherewithal, to spend more than a thousand dollars for one bulb, a price that was paid recently for an unusual snowdrop grown in Scotland. Still, I do enjoy the annual appearance of this simple, white flower with its inconspicuous green markings.

"Fair Maids of February", watercolour, gouache & ink, 10" x 13"

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11 thoughts on “Fair Maids of February (Snowdrops)

    • Your comment is timely–it was sunny and mild here yesterday, and I got out into the garden for the first time this year. As I was digging clumps of grass out of the flower beds, I realized that snowdrops and other bulbs are pushing up through their leaf mulch covering. Over the winter, I seem to forget how important gardening is to my health and happiness.

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  1. Such a lovely painting! I like the shade you made them, I find that usually they take a bit from the surrounding colours and never look that white.
    We can look fw to the next snowdrops now, after all February is not too far away 🙂 I am still to manage to establish a clump here, they want to flower tooo early.

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  2. “Hope to the heart,” and that it is. We have snowdrops at my place. They’re such a cheerful promise of a coming spring! I really love your watercolour. It literally looks like the snowdrops are breaking through the winter!

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  3. Thoroughly enjoyed this post! They are so pretty aren’t they? As is your painting. I followed the links – I saw that daffodils are related to snowdrops and that they also have that chemical. I’m tempted to go eat a bunch!
    Crazy, that price for the unusual snowdrop but I was happy to read that the money will help with the upkeep of the garden of the old couple who originally found the prize. 🙂

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    • I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. Please don’t eat the daffodils! Yes, I liked the part about the old couple. How thrilled they must have been when they discovered that rare snowdrop in their garden.

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  4. It also occurred to me while I was walking Ruby and musing upon this post that $1000 for a bulb seems excessive. Once I paid $35 for a brand new day lily cultivar and had to agonize over spending that much money for two weeks before I finally sent in the order, feeling extravagant the whole time…

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    • It’s pretty crazy, alright. You mention in your earlier comment that your mother gave you snowdrops from her garden. I have cuttings and bulbs from my daughter’s garden. My grandmother never had a rose bush that wasn’t a cutting from a neighbour’s bush. Simple pleasures, but pleasures indeed.

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  5. Very odd that you are featuring snowdrops in this post. I have a shot of my own snowdrops today on my blog! I guess that is what spring will do to you, make you think of crocuses and snowdrops. I have two sorts, the small ones pictured and another variety in the front which are very large and very early. I have no idea what variety they are as they were a gift from my mother, who had them growing in her garden. I have been transplanting mine too, and have found that they really do not like to be in a location that is too damp during the summer, so I have several places I put them that they did not come back after one spring of bloom.

    Your depiction of them is nice, you really get across their modest habit of showing their beautiful centers only to the ground…

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