Wednesday 26 June 2019

There's one beautifully simple reason to visit Carlow in February

Galanthophiles should get themselves to Carlow for a feast of February snowdrops, writes Pól Ó Conghaile

Snowdrops at Altamont Gardens. Photo: Fáilte Ireland
Snowdrops at Altamont Gardens. Photo: Fáilte Ireland
Snowdrop Week at Altamont Gardens. Photo: Carlow Tourism
Snowdrops at Altamont House, Co Carlow. Photo: OPW
Altamont House & Gardens in summer
Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

Think snowdrops are simple? Think again.

These small, modest flowers may lure us with their pure and uncomplicated looks, but the subtle differences in their petals and ovaries can be astonishing.

Did you know there's a term for people who collect snowdrops? 'Galanthophile' is taken from the flower's taxonomic name, Galanthus.

But it's not just their variety. Snowdrops have a disarming toughness, popping up through icy soil when sunshine is in short supply. You may think February a punishing month, but for snowdrops, it's peak season.

Then there's the symbolism - defying the elements as a harbinger of spring, snowdrops remind us that winter won't go on forever. They are optimistic little things.

Snowdrops can be seen all over Ireland, of course - from Blarney Castle (blarneycastle.ie) and Dublin's National Botanic Gardens (botanicgardens.ie) to the carpets of white across the grounds of Burtown House & Gardens in Co Kildare (burtownhouse.ie) or Shankill Castle (shankillcastle.com) in Co Kilkenny.

Snowdrop Week at Altamont Gardens. Photo: Carlow Tourism
Snowdrop Week at Altamont Gardens. Photo: Carlow Tourism

But Carlow is increasingly the county associated with this flower.

In fact, there are over 170 varieties of snowdrop - literally several thousand flowers - at Altamont Gardens (059 9159444; heritageireland.ie) alone. Set on a 100-acre estate near Tullow, a collection first started by Corona North is now among the largest in Ireland and, this year, its Snowdrop Week has blossomed into a month-long event.

For the full month of February, the OPW, together with the Carlow Garden Trail (carlowgardentrail.com) and Carlow Tourism, are hosting guided tours facilitated by Head Gardener, Paul Culter every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 2pm.

The tour costs €3pp, and the gardens are open from 9am to 4.30pm. Robert Miller of Altamont Plant Sales is also leading free tours of the snowdrop collection around the Walled Garden each Saturday at 2pm.

Altamont House & Gardens in summer
Altamont House & Gardens in summer

Carlow has been a strong county for snowdrops in part due to its large number of "big houses", says Eileen O'Rourke, CEO of Carlow Tourism.

"Snowdrops were very popular among the gentry, and were swapped between big houses. In time, they were passed down to the workers. The fertile, woodland soil which is in abundance in Carlow is also a factor."

2019 has seen one of the earliest snowdrop seasons on record, O'Rourke says, due to the "unprecedented" mild winter. Some varieties began to flower in December, while others are just starting now.

Other snowdrop events in Carlow throughout February include woodland walks featuring snowdrops and spring plantings at Clonegal's Huntington Castle (huntingtoncastle.com), every weekend from 11am to 4pm.

Read more:

10 Best: Secret gardens in Ireland

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