Finding February’s Flowers

Linda Brown

Are you, like me, a galanthophile? If you are, this is just the right time of year to indulge in our shared passion.

In case you don’t know what a galanthophile is (which I must confess, I didn’t until very recently), let me explain; a galanthophile is the proper term for a person who is obsessed with, or collects, snowdrops. The word has its origins in the Greek word for snowdrop – Galanthus.

Traditionally, snowdrops symbolise hope and rebirth, and certainly the appearance of these beautiful but hardy white flowers, clustered along hedgerows and riverbanks and blanketing woodland floors, heralds the first tentative stirrings of our spring.

This morning I’m on a snowdrop pilgrimage on Lanfine Estate in East Ayrshire. Situated on the hillside between the Irvine Valley towns of Newmilns and Darvel, Lanfine, having several paths available for the public to access, is an ideal place to explore on a nature walk.

Lanfine Estate’s origins date to 1769 when John Brown, textile manufacturer and banker, purchased 400 acres of land from Cessnock Estate, and embarked on both tree planting the area and constructing his mansion house. The earliest part of Lanfine House (today a private residence) was completed in 1772 by the builder James Armour of Mauchline, future father-in-law of Ayrshire bard, Robert Burns. Later, one of John’s descendants, Thomas Brown, Professor of Botany at Glasgow University, who inherited the estate circa 1829, was responsible for landscaping the grounds and planting many exotic species of trees and shrubs, including Californian redwood, Spanish chestnut and dogwood. Today, Lanfine’s mature woodland is a haven for both birdlife and wildlife; it is not unusual to stumble across a greater spotted woodpecker hammering on a tree, roe deer bounding through the woods, or wild boar (safely in their own enclosure) dozing in the sunshine.

I’m striding up… or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, considering I have several surplus festive pounds to shift… I’m huffing and puffing up the steep treelined West Drive leading to Lanfine House. Underfoot, the ground is stony and muddy. These days this particular drive (there are three others serving the estate) is traffic-free apart from the occasional tractor or mountain bike, but is well used by serious ramblers, dog walkers and folk like me meandering about aimlessly with a camera.

I catch a glimpse of activity in amongst the needles of an ancient yew; with twisted, low hanging branches, the tree wouldn’t look out of place as an illustration in a children’s fairytale book. Two goldcrests, Britain’s smallest birds, instantly recognisable thanks to their olive-green feathers and the black and yellow (female) or orange (male) stripes on top of their heads, zip from branch to branch, their thin beaks picking out any unfortunate insects lurking among the needles. These tiny agile birds weigh about 5g, that’s the equivalent of a 20 pence coin. Their fast and erratic movements mean they are almost impossible to photograph, but I turn on my camera and try all the same. The goldcrests flit along the path, darting from tree to tree and I follow, snapping blurry images until they disappear completely into thick undergrowth.