Just like snowdrops, hepaticas have recently developed something of a cult following in the UK. A fascination with these diminutive members of the buttercup family is nothing new; the Japanese have been coveting them since the early 18th century. Intense hybridisation since then means there are now over 650 named varieties displaying all manner of fabulous colours and flower structures. The leaves are not to be overlooked either, sporting a characteristic three-lobed shape which may be bronzed, marbled or lightly variegated.
Delightfully, the Japanese name ‘Yukiwariso’, translates as ‘breaking snow plant’ and gives us clues as to hepaticas’ preferences in cultivation. The plants spend the winter dormant, often buried under several feet of snow. To grow and flower well they require water as spring approaches (like melting snow) and then copious sun in February. In their natural habitat hepaticas become shaded as overhead trees come into leaf, so require light shade and drier conditions in summer. They will tolerate heavier soil provided it’s free draining and has some leafmould incorporated. The plants also appreciate a little humidity around their leaves through the year. Hepatica transsilvanica, pictured above, hails from Romania and is considered slightly more tolerant in gardens than other species. This clump was photographed at the foot of a low wall in the Marnock Garden within Sheffield’s botanical gardens at the weekend. Although not a fancy hybrid, the petals and contrasting stamens sparkled in the sunshine. As so often, nature does things best.