Quietly resilient and guaranteed to make us smile, these hardy flowers can currently be seen in all their glory the length and breadth of Scotland, finds Agnes Stevenson.

They bring hope in the midst of winter and their quiet resilience is a symbol for our times so this year, more than ever, tiny snowdrops are one of February’s most welcome sights.

Here in Scotland they enjoy perfect conditions and thrive in old woodlands, along roadside verges, and in some of the country’s grandest estates.

But sometimes even the smallest garden can contain a treasure trove of those pristine delights, and enthusiasts, known as “galanthophiles” from the snowdrop’s Latin name, galanthus, grow their rarest bulbs in tiny clay pots so they can better appreciate the minute differences in markings that make some bulbs sought-after by collectors.

Every year the Scottish Snowdrop Festival, organised by Discover Scottish Gardens, celebrates the season by encouraging snowdrop gardens to open to the public.

This year, a number of those openings have gone ahead, allowing local visitors to enjoy the spectacle in accordance with Covid regulations. And the Festival, which runs until March 11, continues online too at discoverscottishgardens.org, with talks and guided walks through some of Scotland’s best snowdrop woods.

Meanwhile, here are 10 of the best places to enjoy nature’s winter gems.

1. Riverside Park, Perth

Follow the snowdrop trail along the banks of the River Tay, taking in the Bellwood Heather Collection and a public art trail at the same time. Riverside Park, which has been extensively developed in recent years, has been awarded the Best Park in the UK title for two consecutive years in the Royal Horticultural Society’s Britain in Bloom Awards.

2. Attadale Gardens,

Strathcarron, Wester Ross

With views across Loch Carron to the Isle of Skye, Attadale Gardens enjoys one of the most spectacular settings in Scotland, but in February and March it is the tiny snowdrops that cover the woodlands and gardens that capture visitors’ attention. Gardening has been taking place here for 300 years and the extensive collection of fine plants is complemented by many beautiful pieces of sculpture. The gardens are open on Thursday from 10am until 4pm.

3. Pollok Park, Glasgow

This much-loved green space has been a haven for residents of Glasgow’s south side over the last year and right now it is carpeted in snowdrops. Find them in the woodland, alongside paths and fringing the River Cart.

4. Castle Fraser,

Kemnay, Aberdeenshire

This imposing tower house presides over hundreds of acres of parkland with snowdrops growing in its woodlands. While the castle itself is closed, the grounds, including the historic walled garden, remain open to visitors.

5. Cambo House, Kingsbarns, Fife

Cambo is where Scotland’s snowdrop festival first began and its 70 acres contain some of the finest snowdrop woods in the country, while the estate near St Andrews in Fife is also home to a national collection of specialist snowdrop cultivars.

6. Shepherd House,

Inveresk, Musselburgh

Shepherd House is home to artist Lady Ann Fraser and the specialist snowdrops that she grows under shrubs and alongside paths feature often in her work. The garden is enclosed within high walls, making it a sheltered spot to discover different varieties. This beautiful garden is open by appointment at ann.shepherdhouse@gmail.com.

7. Finlaystone Estate, Langbank

From the River Clyde, the woods of Langbank rise steeply and beneath trees – and along streamsides snowdrops grow in abundance turning the woodland floor white. Finlaystone has ponds, bridges and rushing streams, and the slopes provide the damp yet free-draining conditions that snowdrops love best.

8. Saughton Park, Edinburgh

Saughton Park has undergone a transformation in recent years and as well as being the permanent home of the “Caley” (Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society), its borders contain a fine collection of snowdrops.

9. Culzean Castle,

Maidens, South Ayrshire

When the Marquess of Ailsa planted five million trees in the early 19th century, he created the perfect conditions for snowdrops to flourish and now the woodlands are carpeted in them. Get down among the flowers and you can smell their honeyed scent.

10. Ardkinglas Woodland Garden, Cairndow, Argyll

In spring, bluebells and rhododendrons colour the woodlands beneath soaring trees, including some of the tallest conifers in the UK. But one of the best times to visit is when the forest floor is carpeted in snowdrops. Look out for red squirrels, too, and take time to enjoy the vistas over Loch Fyne.


Scotland’s long-established love affair with snowdrops continues to blossom

It is such a familiar part of our landscape in late winter that the snowdrop must surely be one of our native flowers but, in fact, it is a visitor from mainland Europe, only arriving in Scotland in the 18th century.

Yet like so many immigrants it put down strong roots, becoming immortalised by Robert Burns in his poem The Parting Kiss and featuring in the works of artist AE Hornel, whose Gathering Snowdrops hangs in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.


Spring without snowdrops would be unthinkable and, according to David O’Brien of Scotland’s natural heritage agency, NatureScot, its emergence in February can act as a lifeline for early insects.

“Because of the effects of climate change we are now seeing queen bumble bees emerging during mild spells in winter when there is very little for them to eat, but fortunately snowdrops are rich in both pollen and nectar.”

Snowdrops themselves are also changing with the weather, and they are increasingly setting seed which is giving rise to some of the more unusual snowdrops that are sought-after by collectors.

One of the finest snowdrops, Galanthus “S Arnott”, is named after a former provost of Dumfries who had a passion for the flowers. A single bulb of the yellow snowdrop, Galanthus “Elizabeth Harrison”, in whose Scottish garden it was first discovered, sold recently for £725.

The fact that these tiny, delicate flowers can survive through severe weather is, says David, because they make a compound called Galanthine, which, during the First World War was used as anti-freeze in early tanks.

“The bulbs have medicinal properties too and, despite being toxic and unsafe to eat, are used to make a substance called Galantamine, which is used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.”

Snowdrops are widespread in Scotland and are often found growing in deciduous woodland where the early light of spring is replaced by shade as the canopy above them closes over.

It is illegal to collect snowdrops without the landowner’s permission. However, in some places, including Cambo House in Fife, it is possible to buy snowdrops “in the green”, which is when the flowers have died down but the foliage remains. Planted this way, the bulbs establish more effectively.

And even the smallest patch of snowdrops can be helped to spread more rapidly by digging up the bulbs and replanted them across a wider area after flowering.


Article in association with ​NatureScot.