Rare, fickle and recommended only for ‘expert’ gardeners, this is Illicium simonsii. It was not a shrub I was familiar with, but its butter-yellow flowers caught my attention today at BlueBell Arboretum in Derbyshire. Naturally I wanted to know more. Hailing from southern Sichuan, northern Yunnan and Burma Illicium simonsii grows slowly to form a small, evergreen, pyramid-shaped shrub. Every year it is covered with clusters of starry, lightly fragranced flowers in February and March. A close relative, Illicium verum, is the source of star anise, my favourite spice. A little shade, acidic soil and good drainage are prerequisites for successful cultivation, but even then this capricious beauty can succumb to cold, drought or exposure to strong winds.
BlueBell Nursery offers plants at a cool £28 but will only guarantee the plant’s health for 21 days. Definitely one for the woodland gardener who enjoys a challenge.