The snowdrop flower is nature’s gift to those longing for the birth of spring. At George Washington Birthplace National Monument, snowdrops are currently exhibiting a vivid bloom winning the admiration of visitors strolling through the Park’s historic area.
Snowdrops are a member of the amaryllis family and grow throughout much of Europe but are often associated with England. These perennials are not native to Virginia but to the European subcontinent. They were possibly imported from the British Isles, as they would have gained popularity in English gardens by the time the first colonist arrived and certainly by the time John Washington emigrated from England in the mid 17th century. This makes the snowdrops a fitting plant because when George Washington was born on this property, colonists often brought items from England to remind them of home and having flower bulbs willing to bloom in the depths of winter brought a double encouragement to its planter.
Honey bees make an early appearance to pollinate the snowdrops further disguising the truth that winter’s grip is still strong. Brown oak leaves from last autumn grace the snowdrop fields and are slowly decomposing to provide the soil with the nutrition the oak trees have been busy taking from it. Leafless trees uncover the truth which the snowdrops’ perennial bloom works so hard to conceal.
Winter’s midday sun casts shadows from the historic Memorial House over the snowdrop fields also help reveal the snowdrops’ deception that spring has not quite arrived. The Memorial House that looks over the snowdrops was not here when George Washington was born; rather the house was built by the Wakefield Association to honor the 200th birthday of the father of our country in 1932. Today, this Georgian style mansion stands as a legacy of our first president and the many patriots who subordinated self-interest to the benefit of many generations yet to be born.
The actual house of George Washington’s birth burned down on Christmas Day in 1779 but visitors can easily identify the house’s foundation outline. On the day the house burned, General George Washington had long since moved away and was camped at Morristown, New Jersey, struggling to feed and clothe the severely depleted Continental Army and prepare them to face in the following spring the mightiest military power then known.
We do not know if George Washington ever had an opportunity to gaze on the snowdrop blooms or even perhaps arrange a boy’s version of a bouquet for an appreciative mother. Nevertheless, we can only imagine the Washington family finding encouragement from blooms occurring in the depths of winter while reminding them of their ancestral country.
The snowdrops’ bloom seems to tease us for spring’s warm sun and the explosion of colors promised by Virginia’s tidewater soil. In its time, winter will yield to the warmth of spring and the snowdrops must then acquiesce to traditional spring flowers. In the meantime, if you are searching for a sign of spring, you need look no further than the birthplace of George Washington.