Miles Kington: Nuggets of facts about coy snowdrops and ugly alpacas

Little clumps of snowdrops appear in the middle of fields, far from the main herd, like scouts thrown ahead by an invisible general
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The Independent Online

"It's going to be a bad season for snowdrops this year," said a gardener I know, just before Christmas. "There hasn't been enough rain for the roots. They're going to struggle in the spring."

I was very impressed that gardeners knew this sort of thing. I was less impressed when it dawned on me in February that this has been one of the best years for snowdrops I have seen.

I do not mean just in people's gardens. I mean out there in the cold, hard world. The place is swarming with snowdrops. They are in woods, along the edge of fields, in ditches, on river banks, in places where I have never seen snowdrops before. Like demented little white corps de ballet, they dance out along the roadside, through fences, coyly back into woods, everywhere you go.

The odd thing is that they also appear in the middle of fields. Little clumps of snowdrops, far from the main herd, like scouts thrown ahead by an inquisitive general. How do they get there?

There is a walk I like doing near us, in a village called Winsley, which goes down a lane to the edge of a hill and gives you a distant prospect of Salisbury Plain. As you stand there, admiring the Westbury White Horse some 15 miles away, you become aware that on your left there is the greensward of Winsley Cricket Club and on the right there is a field containing half a dozen alpacas. In the middle of that field there are two or three magnificent clumps of snowdrops. I would love to know how they got there, as I think in all honesty that they are more graceful and attractive than the alpacas.

(I am joking. Anything would be more attractive and graceful than an alpaca. This strange relative of the llama has none of the grace of the vicuna or the thuggish charm of the llama itself. An alpaca has a head which is too big for it, and a cumbersome body, and a neck which goes nowhere, and you can't help feeling that if Walt Disney had ever wanted to invent a comic member of the llama family, he would have had his work cut out to improve on the poor old alpaca.)

So there they are, these half dozen alpacas, far from their native Peru, and although I sometimes speak to them in O-level Spanish ("Hi kids! Hola chicos! What have you done today? Que ha Vd hecho hoy?") they never respond. But nor, I am glad to notice, do they ever eat the snowdrops. Could this be my entrée into botanical history? "It was Miles Kington who first observed that alpacas have no affinity for the Galanthus family...")

Yes, Galanthus is the botanical name for snowdrop. Just another nugget of fact in today's column for the discerning collector ...

A reader writes: Is this going anywhere? There don't seem to be many jokes today. What are you up to, Mr Kington?

Mr Kington writes: I am responding to the beauty of nature. Even a humorist has poetry in his soul. Cannot the clown occasionally wax lyrical?

A reader writes: Oh, well, if you must, you must.

We call them drops of snow, but other nations think of them as bells. "Schneeglockchen", say the Germans. Little snow bells. The Spanish, too. "Campanillas de invierno". Little winter bells. "Clochettes de neige", in France. And when you look at them, you see that they are indeed little bells, little white hand-bells hanging in rows, ready to be rung by carol singers or choristers, or tiny church bells waiting for the wind to tease them into harmony ...

A reader writes: This is sickening. Can we not have some hard-hitting humour about rigged elections in Belarus? Or the inside stuff on Dominique de Villepin?

Miles Kington writes: On no account.

Meanwhile, deep in the woods, the new season's wild garlic is slowly unfurling, promising to be the next jewel in the countryside ...

A reader writes: God save us. Have we got an article on the glories of wild garlic coming up?

Miles Kington: If you don't behave, you will have.

A reader writes: I'll do anything. I promise.

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