Seeing Snowdrops

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One of my unwritten New Year’s resolutions is to address my southern bias when it comes to writing this blog. As someone who’s never lived more than three miles north of the M4, with a penchant for tender plants, I have little experience of gardening any closer to the North Pole than Reading. I am, as they say up North, a confirmed Soft Southerner.

In an attempt to toughen up, come with me, if you will, on a journey north of the border. Every year in January, February and early March the Scottish Snowdrop Festival sees some of the nation’s finest gardens and woodlands opening their gardens to crowds of snowdrop fanciers (oft known as ‘galanthophiles’). Many open especially for the festival, which runs from January 30th to March 13th 2016. Some charge a small fee and others are completely free to visit.

Snowdrops, Cambo, Scotland
Riverbank snowdrops on the Cambo Estate, Scotland

The epicentre of the festival is the Cambo Estate near St.Andrews, Fife, home to a National Collection of Galanthus and one of the best places to admire snowdrops in the UK. Since 1986 Catherine, Lady Erskine, has established Cambo as the best place from which to buy snowdrops ‘in the green’, sending out over 100,000 bulbs every year by mail. Each spring Lady Erskine and her eight children spent hours lifting, dividing and replanting the snowdrop collection which now occupies 70 acres of deciduous woodland. The result is a breathtaking carpet of our favourite harbinger of spring.

Snowdrops, Cambo, Scotland
All wellied-up and ready to wander!

“The snowdrops are the perfect excuse to get out the house on a winter’s day. Families can come to the Estate and take a pleasant walk, purchase some specialist snowdrop bulbs and then enjoy a good bowl of soup and a snowdrop biscuit” says Lady Erskine. “We are very proud of our 70 acres of woodland which really come alive in the winter months with the snowdrops we spent hours digging and replanting the previous year. The name ‘Cambo’ is synonymous with snowdrops and we are now a major tourist attraction.”

Harbingers of Spring
Harbingers of Spring

If, like me, you’d need a place to lay your weary head after a hard day’s snowdrop appreciation, you might like to tarry a while at Cairnie South Tower in Cupar, which sleeps six, or at appropriately named Garden Cottage (below) a charming stone holiday cottage on the Kinloss Estate which sleeps five. I particularly like the sound of the old cooking range in the dining room and cast iron bath in which to warm my chilly bones.

Garden Cottage, Cupar, Fife

Other Festival highlights

Around 60 gardens open for the Scottish Snowdrop Festival. Here are just six waiting to light your days – or nights – with a dazzling displays of snowdrops.

Craigengillan Estate and Dark Sky Observatory – On February 21st from 3pm to 7pm visitors to the Craigengillan Estate can indulge in a spot of snowdrop appreciation followed by star-gazing at the Dark Sky Observatory. The evening will be rounded off with a talk by the resident astronomer.

Abriachan Garden Nursery – On the shores of Loch Ness, Abriachan offers the opportunity to wander along pathways through native woodlands strewn with delicate snowdrops. The garden and nursery are open for the duration of the festival.

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh – Edinburgh, one of my favourite Botanic Gardens, is a stunning place to visit at any time of the year. On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from February 12th to March 6th Garden Guides will be conducting snowdrop tours from 11am to 12.30pm.

Snowdrops, Bibury, January 2013
Our ‘native’ Galanthus nivalis is thought to have arrived in Britain in the 16th Century

Duntreath Castle – With its turreted castle, 15th Century keep and formal gardens, Duntreath Castle is a classically romantic Scottish baronial pile. Stroll the woodland paths, admire the snowdrops lining a sweeping driveway and visit the stunning waterfall garden, all just half an hour’s drive from Glasgow or Stirling.

Dunskey Gardens and Maze – The beautiful walled garden and woodland walks at Dunskey boast 43 named varieties of snowdrop including: Galanthus ‘Dunskey Talia’, G. ‘Fred’s Giant’, G. ‘Robin Hood’ and G. ‘Sickle’. Gardener-led strolls are offered at 2pm each Sunday. If you’re looking for somewhere peaceful to stay nearby try The Smithy in Kirkcowan which sleeps four and boasts 10 miles of privately owned salmon and trout fishing.

Cluny House Gardens – An exceptional woodland garden overlooking the scenic Strathtay Valley near Aberfeldy. Enjoy the snowdrops and perhaps spot one of the garden’s red squirrels. If you’re travelling with a party, or planning a family gathering, then I like the look of Dunvarlich House, which comfortably sleeps ten and offers beautiful views over the River Tay to the hills beyond.


After the mild, wet start we’ve had to winter it’s worth contacting gardens to see when snowdrop displays will be at their finest before travelling a long distance. Visit Scotland’s website has details on all the properties and their opening dates and times. All that remains is to wrap up warm, don your wellies and enjoy the spectacle.

All properties mentioned above are available through Cottages & Castles. With thanks to The Cambo Estate for the kind use of their photographs. To purchase some of Lady Erskine’s lauded snowdrops ‘in the green’, and establish your own patch of winter magic, click here.

Native snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis, enjoy ground that remains moist, but not wet, all year
Native snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis, enjoy ground that remains moist, but not wet, all year


Categories: Botanical Gardens, Bulbs, Flowers, Large Gardens, Other People's Gardens, Photography, Plants, Travel

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

Greetings Garden Lover! Welcome to my blog. Plants are my passion and this is my way of sharing that joyful emotion with the world. You'll find over 1000 posts here featuring everything from abutilons to zinnias. If you've enjoyed what you've read, please leave a comment and consider subscribing using the yellow 'Follow' button in the bottom, right-hand corner of your screen. You will receive an email every time I post something new.

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31 comments On "Seeing Snowdrops"

  1. OHHHHH my, it is a fairy land, one can just dream of such beauty on a 40 degree West Australian January day… and this cottage is like a little girl’s imagination.
    Thank you for sharing I already feel cooler or is it air con blowing full blast ;)?

    1. I imagine you need the air-con in those conditions Barbara! I am not very good in that kind of heat, I just melt. Give me a nice crisp winter’s day any day (although those have been a rarity this season). Scotland’s had some fairly miserable winter weather this year so hopefully the Snowdrop Festival will bring folk back out of their houses and into the great outdoors again.

  2. On your way north, two tips: one, see if you fancy Millgate House in Richmond, Yorkshire as your overnight stay. Two, try to see Herterton, not far from Wallington. All three will really please.

    1. Thanks for the tips Annie. Millgate House looks wonderful, so I have made a note of that. We went to Herterton ( and Wallington ( back in 2013 and loved both gardens – a return visit this year would be well timed. I have the new book about Herterton on my birthday wish list 🙂

    1. It sounds like proper winter has arrived in New England then Judy? Our winter is scheduled to start next week, apparently. Then all the poor flowers that have got ahead of themselves will be very sorry 🙁

    1. Wow! I think these could be Leucojum vernum (spring snowflake), or Leucojum aestivum (summer snowflake) which are unrelated to snowdrops but look very similar? Summer snowflake is much taller, although I’ve not been successful with it in my garden. Have a lovely weekend.

  3. Lovely, and a testament to the power of the mass planting, if you are willing to fling yourself at the idea. I had spring-flowering leucojum volunteer in my garden two or three houses ago; it naturalized attractively enough, but wasn’t a patch on that.

    1. I think I am going to ask Him Indoors to order me some bulbs in the green from Cambo for my birthday next week. I can’t think of anything else I want, and am fed up with all the big brown patches in the garden where the hostas come up in summer. A drift of snowdrops would be just the job.

  4. What wonderful views! Those expansive drifts remind me of the Swedish ‘vitsippor’ (Anemone nemorosa) which cover acres of white-trunked birch forests in spring. One of the most beautiful sights in the world!

    1. It’s just a little bit too good to be true though, don’t you think? I am looking out of the window at my magnolia and praying it doesn’t start flowering. We are due a cold snap next week and that would ruin the flowers. Have a super weekend Paul.

      1. Thanks a lot Dan 🙂 I hope my weekend will be great. I hope to relax a bit and read “Inferno” by Dan Brown, Wishing you and Alex a nice and warm ( anyway ) weekend.

  5. Dan I love your articles on FB I’m not a gardener but love my garden. You bring it all to life wonderfully. Keep writing I always put aside a few minutes to read every one.

    1. That’s so lovely of you to say Tina. I am suffering with the ‘lurgy’ today so your comment has cheered me up greatly. I promise to keep writing as often as I can – it’s good to know you’ll be reading 🙂

    1. It’s really worth the effort if you are repayed with displays like these isn’t it? Oh, to have the space and the right conditions! I am just happy to see the handful I bought from the Chelsea Physic Garden last year coming back up again. Have a lovely weekend.

  6. I really enjoyed reading your post this week as snowdrops are something that I have really enjoyed in our garden in The Scottish Borders. They are just starting to pop up now. We live very close to Kailzie Gardens which has a beautiful display of snowdrops in the spring, which we as a family have enjoyed many walks in. Funnily enough a couple of years ago we also stayed for a very enjoyable family holiday in Garden cottage on the Kinloss estate!

  7. Unfortunately unable to get up to see them north of the border so will have to enjoy the few clumps in my own garden! Thanks for introducing us to these gardens!

  8. Great post. Love Galanthis, but here in the Great Lakes Region of the US, they usually don’t show until March/April and sometimes suffer from the freezing temps. I see a couple of comments here about Leucojum, which fares much better. Great photos as always, that Cottage Garden photo is dreamy. We finally got our cold and snow here, so all is more or less frozen. I almost wish our “English winter” had continued. I didn’t mind the green grass. Anyway, can’t believe you’re good enough to respond to all (or almost all the comments) you get on this blog. You exceed expectations, really. No need to respond to this (really). Just know I enjoy the blog and all the gorgeous scenery. Wish I was in the UK.

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