Snowdrops provide first cheer of spring

PUBLISHED: 00:16 20 January 2011 | UPDATED: 18:22 20 February 2013

Colourful stems of the dogwood underplanted with grasses which sparkle when covered with frost

Colourful stems of the dogwood underplanted with grasses which sparkle when covered with frost

No matter how frosty it gets this month, there is one little flower that will be pushing its way through the ground to greet us

With Christmas over it is time to look forward and what better way to blow the cobwebs away than a walk in the country or visit one of the gardens that remain open all year. There is still plenty to see with attractive bark and silhouettes from the branches of deciduous trees.
There is one flower that despite how cold will be pushing its way through the ground and that is the snowdrop.
This delicate looking small flower was chosen as the emblem for The Snowdrop Fund, founded by Chris Knighton in memory of her husband Mike who
sadly died of mesothelioma. Thus the Mike Knighton Mesothelioma Research Fund (MKMRF) was born and since its concept in 2002 has raised in excess of 1 million.
In partnership with the fund, Gateshead Council, North Tyneside Council and South Tyneside Council have planted over 10,000 snowdrops to be a lasting reminder of the legacy of asbestos in the North East.
Chris said: I wanted to give other people the chance to create a lasting legacy for their loved ones through the Snowdrop Fund. By planting the snowdrops on both sides of the Tyne we hope to commemorate all those who have died with the disease, and hope one day there will be a cure.
I chose the snowdrop as the emblem for it works so hard through the depths of despair in winter yet, come the spring it pushes through the ground bringing hope and promise for the future to everyone who sees it.
They can be seen in memorial gardens round the area including Saltwell Park, a favourite place for generations of Gateshead people and at Lawe Top Roundabout, looking across the River Tyne. Walkerville Community Centre, Woodridge Gardens, Washington, Tyne and Wear.
Of course there are many other places in the area to see these flowers. Belsay Hall and Gardens has a stunning display as does Howick Hall, which opens on special snowdrop days where thousands give the first display of the year.
Their botanical name Galanthus is derived from the Greek translated Milk Flower. Hence the name of the followers is called Galathophiles, a name coined in the 18th century by a compulsive collector of snowdrops called Edward Bowles.

Although the obsession amongst many is still rife today and it has been know that well over 100 has been paid for a single bulb - probably not quite reaching the tulip mania of its time but who knows. The fanatics will often be seen bent double kneeling in mud with magnifying glass peering down to these delicate flowers, screaming with delight if they find something special, such as
a rare specimen.
There are varying ideas whether snowdrops should be planted as bulbs or in the green i.e. just after flowering while still in leaf.
The best way to create a white carpet is to divide large clumps into just five or six bulbs without damaging the roots and replant immediately. They are hardy and once established will give pleasure for many years. When you visit open gardens for charity as well as many garden centres you will have the opportunity to buy them in the green.
Rumour has it that the delicate centre of the snowdrop was the inspiration for the Olympic Torch, whether true or not it certainly appears similar if not somewhat smaller. Soldiers were so enchanted by snowdrops they brought them back from the Crimea War battlefields to plant in their gardens. Aptly named Snow Piercer for the tips of their leaves are hard, enabling them to pierce the cold ground of winter. They are a sign of purity and are also called Dingle Dangle, Marys Taper and Candlemas Bells.
They not only look good in winter and herald better things to come for spring is just round the corner, they are also an early valuable source of nectar for the humble bumble bee.
However not everything is clear-cut on one side they were historically used for healing wounds and bruising, on the other side the single flowers were sometimes viewed as death tokens as superstitious people felt the flower looked like a corpse in a shroud - because of this they werent brought into houses although today small posies are often found for sale in florists shops.
As the snowdrops come to the end the purple and orange of the crocus are the next sign of spring often sitting alongside. Aconites and hellebores are another of the early flowers to enjoy and be cheered to look forward to the warmer days ahead.

For further details of MKMRF telephone Chris Knighton 0191 263 7386

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