180,000 Snowdrops have been planted around Shaftesbury since 2012. Tim Cook, who was Mayor at the time, had a vision of creating Britain’s first ‘Snowdrop Town’ as a legacy of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
The event has grown in popularity and attracts dozens of experts and people passionate about the flowers to our hilltop town. The ‘Study Day’, on 9th February, is the main focus of activity but as Keri Jones of ThisIsAlfred.com discovered, the snowdrops are coming up early.
Pam Cruikshank knows a lot about snowdrops. She’s getting ready for her ninth snowdrop event in Shaftesbury. And while Pam still has a lot to do, the snowdrops can’t wait any longer. “I wouldn’t expect to see these snowdrops coming up until late January,” said Pam, as we looked at the small white flowers that had popped up behind her Bell Street home. “But here we are with this very mild winter and our snowdrops are up and flowering.”
Luckily Shaftesbury doesn’t hold a snowdrop ‘festival’. Event organisers now celebrate ‘snowdrop season’ so that offers some flexibility, because you can’t second-guess Mother Nature. “We always say that snowdrop season is late January to mid March. We never put a firm date on it,” said Pam. “If I were to date it, I would say from the 20th of January, through to about the 15th of March. And that’s when you would normally expect to see the snowdrops and to find a reasonable display, but we’re obviously going to be early this year.”
Pam’s not worried by the snowdrops’ early appearance. “No, it could be a one off. You really don’t know, but people like you and I just go out and enjoy them,” she said. “It’s going to be a slightly different time of year. Half term will still be full of snowdrops, and that’s the nicest time for families to go out and do their snowdrop walk, get off the couch and away from the telly and take the kids. And of course, a huge number of children who have grown up in Shaftesbury have planted the snowdrops themselves. So these are their snowdrops. You know they go out and they have a look and it’s like ‘those are the ones that I planted’. And you know, that’s really nice.”
Pam says you can see the snowdrops coming out already in some part of the town. “If you are walking up from St James’s along Stony Path there are lots of snowdrops planted on the hill. And so you’ll see those coming up. If you’re walking through the Bury Litton you’ll see snowdrops. They’re starting to come up in Trinity, which is, of course, where the main snowdrops were planted for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. That was the 2012 planting. Breach Lane, Enmore Green, St James’ Park underneath the trees and further along Layton Lane. There are snowdrops planted by members of the public there and you’ll see lots of people putting snowdrops in pots outside their houses to join in and some people put them in their windows. So it’s a case of just wandering about and enjoying them.”
Pam is passionate about the event and believes that the snowdrop season does boost the town’s economy at a traditionally quiet time of year. It’s not possible to provide a precise figure of event attendees. That’s because visitors can come and go, and their numbers are not counted unless they’ve attended a ticketed event. But Pam has plenty of anecdotal evidence of the appeal of the snowdrops.
“Study Day brings a huge number of people from a long way away,” Pam enthused. “We’ve got a gentleman who comes every year. He will bring his wife and his daughters. They like Shaftesbury for shopping, so they stay on the Friday night and then his wife and daughters spend the day in Shaftesbury while he comes to the Study Day. Likewise, we’ve got a chap who brings his partner. His partner is not interested in snowdrops but is interested in archaeology. So he’ll go to go to Gold Hill Museum and sometimes he jumps on the train and goes off into Salisbury. They stay in our town so they are still bringing some funds in. But in terms of the number of people that come through, it is very difficult to judge. All we know is that the shops report an up-step in their sales. We would expect hundreds of people every day, so it’s a nice steady footfall into the town.”
Study Day is Saturday 9th February. “We get Americans. We get people from all across Europe. They come for the lecture series and the social aspect of meeting up with fellow galanthophiles,” said Pam. “Shaftesbury gives them a lovely environment to come together. People take rental houses or they stay in hotels. And they do all their social stuff as well as coming and listening to speakers talking about snowdrops.”
Pam says it doesn’t matter if the snowdrops have peaked by the time these snowdrop fans arrive. “The snowdrops are the icing on the cake. And if the icing is missing one year. I don’t think it’ll have a huge impact on them,” she said.
One attendee, Tomoko Miyashita, is travelling all the way from Japan. “She’s meeting up here with former colleagues from Wisley, where she worked. We’re really pleased that she’s decided to come.”
Tomoko is what galanthophiles, or snowdrop lovers, call an ‘immortal’. “She’s had a snowdrop named after her because of her contribution to snowdrops in horticulture,” Pam said. The term an ‘immortal’ almost sounds like she has special powers. “Yes, special snowdrop powers,” laughed Pam, who added, “It just means there’s something that’s pretty and different that has been named for her. That’s a nice thing to have done.”
“We also have the sale,” Pam continued. “Some of the most respected growers in the country bring their most interesting snowdrops and people come just for the sale. They buy their tickets at the TIC. In the afternoon we bring a high profile gardening speaker – who doesn’t talk about snowdrops!” Pam paused, before adding, “Well, they might mention snowdrops along the way.”
The 2019 headline speaker is Andy McIndoe. “He holds the Veitch Memorial Medal for services to horticulture. He’ll be talking about exactly where we started,” said Pam. “The snowdrops are up early, does it matter? From a gardener’s perspective, no. If your garden is well-planned, you have a garden that’s planned for the winter, but with all-year-round interest”.
Andy’s talk is titled ‘A Winter Garden For All Year Round Interest’. You can buy tickets from the Eventbrite website or the Tourist Information Centre. And you can also call into the TIC to buy Shaftesbury Snowdrop merchandise. “The pop up shop will be within the TIC this year. We hope to have a smattering of snowdrop memorabilia and bits and pieces in the Abbey shop and possibly in the Gold Hill Museum shop,” said Pam.
The lantern parade will be held on the last Saturday of half term, 23rd February. It will start at 6.30pm in St James’ Park. “There will be lantern-making workshops during the day where you can come and make a lantern. It’s open to adults as well as children,” said Pam. “You can also bring along a lantern you’ve made previously and patch it up so that you can join in this year’s parade. We know that the Brownies will make their own lanterns and join us. There will be a ceilidh afterwards, run by ‘Steps In Time’. That will be in the Town Hall. They’re talking about bakes potatoes and chilli and a good evening of dancing on the Saturday night.”
Pam enjoyed last year’s event. “It was oversold and a fantastic, lovely family evening. There were lots of people there including teenagers, adults and small children. It was just great fun,” said Pam.
You can learn more about the events at ShaftesburySnowdrops.org.