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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.