Signs of spring at Fountains Abbey
Snowdrops are often the first sign of spring, lighter days and warmer weather on the way. Carpets of these beautiful flowers can be found in the woodland leading down to the abbey from the visitor centre, in the grass near the abbey ruins, and in the edges of the woodlands by the paths leading from the abbey to the water garden.
Most of the snowdrops here were originally planted by the gardeners employed at Studley Royal house, which once stood in the deer park.
There was a tradition at that time of growing all sorts of flowers early (or ‘force grown’) in greenhouses. It was all about showing off – who could grow their flowers the earliest? The snowdrops here were force-grown to create elaborate displays in the house over Christmas and then planted out in to the garden.
Snowdrops were also planted along the river banks by the abbey, as part of the garden the abbey was treated like a romantic ruin and these beautiful, dainty plants suited perfectly to add some spring colour and elegant displays.
There are still carpets of snowdrops in the woodlands in the deer park and along the riverside by abbey as a result today.
Some were planted by local families in the late 1990s and they have spread and grown naturally too over the years. A former owner of the estate, Earl De Grey, also asked his gardeners to plant and spell out his name in snowdrops on the bank of the river Skell in the 1850s – some of which can still be seen to this day from the opposite bank.
Most of the snowdrops here are Victorian double-flowered varieties, cultivated for their pretty green-tipped internal petals. The team have re-introduced the simpler wild single-flowered snowdrops to areas by the abbey, and these are already spreading to other areas of the estate as they sometimes drop into the river and wash up further downstream!
Snowdrops take their latin name galanthas nivalis from the combination of two Greek and Latin words. Galanthus, from the ancient Greek means milk white flower, while the Latin word nivalis means resembling snow.
There are many beliefs and symbolism related to snowdrops, as a sign of purity, of hope, or as 'Candlemas Bells' because they often bloom early in the year before Candlemas.
Although snowdrops are hardy flowers, the gardening team take special care to ensure that the snowdrops flourish. Snowdrop duties include raking leaves and debris from the woodland edges and river banks to make sure they have room to come up each spring, and pruning and thinning the areas too in order to allow plenty of light in to encourage growth.
The best time to see the snowdrops is the last two weeks of February, and there are lovely walks by the river as well as a snowdrop walk you can join to find out more. You'll find snowdrop baskets and mini bulb-bunches in the shop if you'd like to take some home for your own garden too.