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Plant writings, gardening thoughts & observations of Paul Hervey - Brookes, Award Winning Garden Designer & Plantsman.
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Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Starting the New Year with a Horticultural Bang!

The New Year dawns as our busiest time at the nursery.  In January & February the Rococo Garden becomes a magnet for Galanthophile’s, traveling from across the United Kingdom & Europe to see them.  The garden is literally covered in the thousand’s.  

(Photo: Snowdrops at the Rococo Garden) Being so consumed by snowdrops at this time of year it is easy for us to slightly forget other early flowers, after all, for us the snowdrop comes after some very delicate and beautiful early flowers.

(Photo: Eranthis hymalis) One of my favourites is the winter aconite, Eranthis, the tiny collared buttercup flowers which make such a bright carpet.  They are in the same family, Ranunculaceae, as the rather more brash, Ranunculus ‘Brazen Hussy’ and are native to Europe, Asia and Japan.  Eranthis is a fairly small genus with about 8 species.

If you thought Eranthis was a bulb you would be quite mistaken, it is actually a herbaceous perennial and division is exceptionally easy by simply digging up the tubers once the plant begins to die down and cutting sections off.  Pot these on and keep in a cool place before planting back out next spring when in leaf.  

Eranthis hyemalis, the species native to Europe, generally grows in deciduous woodland in the wild and is used by lots of gardeners as early ground cover.  I have often paired it with Acer griseum when using the acer as a specimen tree.  If you plant the acer to catch the winter sunlight the papery bark glows golden with a buttercup yellow carpet of the aconite's underneath.  Because Eranthis is summer dormant, aestivation, they are gone long before you need to start either cutting the grass around the base or a successive plant begins to take its place.

(Photo: Eranthis stellata) Now I really enjoy the yellow cheerfulness of the traditional winter aconite but recently I was introduced to a rarer russian cousin, Eranthis stellata.  Imagine the depths of winter the forest floor is extremely cold and in Russia crisp.  A slender green stem appears with a refined green collar and large pure paper white flower with purple to white anther’s.  This little treasure will sit reliably and happily through the worst weather for weeks before disappearing before April and all it asks is a well drained humus rich soil in exchange.  

(Photo: Eranthis pinnatifida) Another white flowering species is Eranthis pinnatifida, this is native to Japan and produces a tuft of heavily divided purple tinged leaves.   The pure white open flower has deep purple anthers and waxy yellow pronounced styles.  It prefers light shade, and again a humus rich soil.  E. pinnatifida is as the name suggests a tiny species so if you grow it put a marker in, like I would, or have a good memory.

All parts of the plant are poisonous and according to Greek Mythology, Medea tried to kill Theseus by putting aconite in his wine.  Greek's believed the plant came from  the salvia of the 3 headed dog Cerberus, guardian of the underworld.  As Hercules pulled the dog from the underworld Cerberus turned his head away from the light and as he did salvia fell from is mouth hardening into the aconite.  If you are not a follower of mythology more likely is the the reasoning that aconite comes from the Greek for akone, meaning whetstone, a stoney soil where Eranthis occurs naturally.


Teza said...

How charming is Eranthus stellata and E. pinnatifida - I must look to seeing if I can find them here in Canada. A lovely post to help beat the winter doldrums...thanks so much for sharing!

Rosemary said...

Hi Paul, I was out of luck last year and did not manage to find any winter aconite for sale, will you be stocking it at the nursery?
Kind Regards

Paul Hervey-Brookes said...

Hello Rosemary, we potted in March for this year and I have checked the pots and they all seem healthy so yes we will have Eranthus hymalis at the nursery this year. I have yet to get them listed on the nursery website however!!
We open on January 10th and if you want us to put some aside for you just let us know.

All the best Paul.

leavesnbloom said...

Paul I've never seen the Eranthis stellata before. Must be lovely to have a blanket of snowdrops surrounding you in the nursery.

Jacqui said...

I loved this post - the photographs are gorgeous and make me believe that the snow will actually go. Have a wonderful New Year.

Deborah at Kilbourne Grove said...

Wow, I cannot believe it. After commenting on Diana's blog about a snowdrop lawn, she told me to check out your blog. Gorgeous!!!
You very rarely see anything like that in Canada, not sure why, I am hoping that I can change that one day. Have a few thousand now, only a few million more to go, sigh.....
Love the white Eranthis, have not seen them before.

azplantlady said...

Hello Paul,

You live in one of my favorite places. I wish I were able to visit more often. My favorite flowers are the Snowdrops. They are so beautiful and delicate. I found your blog on Blotanical and would like to offer my belated "Welcome".

Di said...

Hello Paul,

I came upon your blog via Blotanical and happy to have done so. I'm looking forward to your posts. Happy New Year. Diana

Gene said...

Paul, I was looking forward to coming to the garden and seeing the snowdrop display this sunday but imagine Painswick is pretty much unpassable at the moment! Lets hope it thaws out soon, looking forward to browsing your plants again. Gene

Paul Hervey-Brookes said...

Hello Gene, Painswick is passable with care. The garden looks stunning in the snow and the crisp silent air. I must say, through sampling, that the team in the Coach House are making some wonderful winter soups to kick off the opening. Looking forward to seeing you. Paul.

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