Everyone loves snowdrops. They are the first ubiquitous flowers that signal the lengthening days and slow approach of spring. They are pretty and delicate, and their colour is fitting for the time of year.
I love them too. I was thrilled to spot my first snowdrops of the year in a churchyard in the middle of January, though the ones in my garden were barely above ground yet: they didn’t come fully into bloom until a mild, sunny spell in the middle of February. A month later, they are still going strong, and the daffodils show no signs of taking over from them.
Still, I almost didn’t include snowdrops in my winter treasures. They seemed too obvious somehow, lasting the greater part of winter and coming up regularly in conversation as a marker of the progress of the season: the first unmissable sign of resurging life in the new year. Unexpected delights came up along the way that displaced my intention to write about snowdrops; and I was still holding out hope for the occurrence of hoar frost this year – the possibility of which is now almost gone.
In the last couple of weeks, however, I have noticed my eyes being repeatedly drawn to one particular clump of snowdrops, accompanied by an involuntary leap inside my chest and my head. This clump grows on the patch of uneven and unremarkable lawn beside the road, between my two front gates.
I have attempted to improve the attractiveness of this area in the last few years, removing the unruly and rather unsightly cotoneasters which hid the house behind them, planting a new hedge of Chilean guava, and sowing grass seed to cover the now approximately 40% larger area of bare ground. But until the hedge starts to resemble a hedge, and hides the stock fencing behind it, even the lovely ginkgo tree beside the road, and the hollyhocks that I have planted to provide some colour and distraction, can’t do much to improve a rather dull roadside lawn. The best that can be said for it is that it is now ‘neat’. Which – don’t get me wrong – I do appreciate, still seeing clearly in my mind’s eye the great contrast with its previous scruffy and overgrown existence.
It simply lacks character. For a couple of months of the year, however, it doesn’t. Like a spot of red in a painting, the clump of snowdrops near the edge of the lawn draws my attention towards it and away from the rest of my field of vision. I have no idea how long the snowdrops have been there, or how they got there. I like to think they arrived of their own accord. In any case, they are there on their own terms, not mine. Like all snowdrops, they are delicate and beautiful; but there is also something cheeky about them. The spark they create in me when I look at them is always accompanied by a smile; even an internal laugh. They carry an air of stubborn independence, a reminder that nature will do what it likes, where it likes, and our efforts to control it can only ever be partially successful.