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Graveyards and Snowdrops

January 22, 2024

Christina Brown

The Cultivating Gardener is a column designed to engage all garden lovers, regardless of skill or experience, as we glimpse, together, the deep tenderness of God hidden in our own backyards. In this column you will find reflections, resources and tips designed to help you expand your vision of what it means to cultivate your own plot of land. As you pursue this good and holy work of garden-tending, my hope is that you will find your own heart lovingly tended by the Great Gardener of both our soils and our souls.


n the dead of winter, there is one particular flower bold enough to pierce the beige and white-toned landscape. The French call her the ‘perce-neige,’ or ‘snow-perforator.’ Carl Linnaeus (famous botanist of the 18th century) gave the snowdrop its Latin name ‘Galanthus nivalis,’ or ‘Milk Flower of the snow.’  In common vernacular, we know this brave flower as the snowdrop.

A few years ago, I fell in love with snowdrops. It was their beauty that captured me first; satin bells of white purer than the snow, hanging from sprigs of jeweled green. But the longer I’ve been acquainted with these flowers, the more fond of them I’ve become. 

Centuries ago, when superstitions ran deep, the snowdrop was considered bad luck because it often grew in graveyards. But over time, it became a symbol of hope and beauty, in part because it is one of the first flowers to bloom in harsh climates and reminds our chilled souls that a golden warmth is near. 

As a gardener, I find winter months the longest and hardest to endure. In early autumn, I mourn the gentle browning of the flora and bemoan the nodding flowers. But deep into the winter season of frozen earth and grayed sun, my soul begins to ache

I long for green, for a whisper of color to warm the chill. My hands itch to break the soil and sift its muddy promise between my fingers. And just when my deepest desperation shows its ugly face, the snowdrop appears with “winter linger[ing] in her icy veins,”[1] and blooms. 

Snowdrops are heralds of hope (it is no wonder that I love them!) and a gardener’s primary occupation is one of propagating hope. That can be painfully difficult; grief, disappointment, and death run too rampant to allow us to feel hope constantly. In winter, we may feel our hope lies as dormant as our gardens. Yet it is exactly because hope is often elusive that it must be plotted.

I once wrote about using ‘light’ as a weapon against the dark of the winter months. I described it as collecting moments (memories, experiences, sightings of those oh-so-glorious ‘thin places’) to forge a suit of armor out of these irreplicable ‘refractions.’ But this light is not just a defensive strategy – it’s an offensive one. ‘Light’ is a foreboding weapon, and from it we can fashion a lance and aim it straight at the oppressive shadows skulking in the corners of our consciousness. 

A gardener must do the same. 

The latent memories of our gardens’ glory are there, waiting to be remembered and asking to be propagated. We must arm ourselves with these memories and allow the potency of our gardens’ taste, texture, scent, color, and beauty to revisit our imaginations. If we are to plot hope, we must battle despair.

So when the curtains close against the seeping chill and a fire crackles in the hearth, we know the time has come for hope. Seed catalogs get pulled out of drawers. We dog-ear their pages and litter them with pen-strokes, circling this or that variety of sweet pea, or placing asterisks at the corners of our new-found favorite poppy. We scribble eagerly on the pristinely white margins, calculating the price of heirloom tomatoes before pulling out the long-worn graph paper out of the file cabinet and reviewing the old drawings of the garden plot. We grab our nubby graphite pencils to add notes about past and future plantings as we scheme and dream up the next iteration of our little garden paradise.

Because the truth is that it is gardeners, especially, who must be ever watchful of the spiritual truths surrounding us in nature. A dear friend and masterful gardener once said to me, “No matter where we are, gardeners are practitioners of all seasons. Being a real gardener means being present with the rhythms of the earth all year, and you can hardly miss the spiritual corollary to that.”[2] Gardening isn’t just a hobby – a practice I can pick up when the weather turns fair. It is a saintly endeavor and requires a stoutness of my soul. It is simultaneously a defiance of death and a faith in resurrection. (Perhaps we ought to re-imagine the meaning of snowdrops’ proliferation in graveyards…).

There is never a time when the soil doesn’t sing of hope. But it is the job of gardeners to arrange its notes into a summer symphony. We are not passive observers of our gardens in the winter months, but active advocates – propagators of the faithfulness of God.

Audrey Hepburn once said that “to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.”[3] And she was right. Because growing a garden requires hope, and hope is not a static thing. Hope has a heartbeat, and Hope has a name.

I want to leave you with this encouragement:

Plant snowdrops. They are easy to sow and they propagate on their own. This three-minute video is a (darling!) gentleman’s description of how to plant potted snow-drop bulbs. He also gives a short explanation of what size blooms to expect from the differing bulb varieties. You’ll want to plant them in early autumn and purchase them via mail-order or from a local plant nursery as the bulbs only keep when they’re moist. (Here is a good website for mail-order). 

So, my friends, next year in the browning of autumn, allow yourself to envision the light, and bury snowdrop bulbs. I guarantee that their unexpected appearance on a cold winter day will ignite a small flame of hope in your heart.

[1] Anna Laetitia Barbauld, The Works of Anna Laetitia Barbauld , (London Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown and Green, 1825) digital source

[2] Lancia E. Smith

[3] Gardens of the World documentary series with Audrey Hepburn, PBS 1993

The featured image is courtesy of Aaron Burden via Unsplash. We are grateful for Aaron’s vision, skill, and generosity.


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