Daily Flower Candy: Eranthis hyemalis

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Eranthis hyemalis: winter aconite, winter hellebore, winter wolf’s bane.

Jack Frost has arrived in the south of England, wrapping his icy arms around our London garden, petrifying bare earth with his icy breath. His late arrival has sent many optimistic plants that dared to bloom early back into hiding. The puckered, pink flowers of Magnolia x soulangeana are already tinged brown, tainted forever, whilst hellebores hang their pretty heads in shame. Yet all is not lost. Beneath the trees, shoulder-to-shoulder with shimmering snowdrops, little pools of winter sunshine are forming, quickly merging to create serpentine lakes of glowing gold. The plant responsible for this prevernal phenomenon is the winter aconite, Eranthis hyemalis.

Witch hazel, aconites and snowdrops, Bosvigo, February 2015

Winter aconites live fast and die young, sprouting from frozen earth in January and disappearing underground by late spring. Flowers leap like tiny candle flames from a backswept ruff of glossy stem leaves held just a few centimetres above the ground. Despite their fleeting appearance the tubers, which should be planted about 10cm beneath the soil surface, insist on consistent moisture throughout the year – the norm in our London garden. They grow especially well on alkaline soils. Winter aconites like to be planted beneath deciduous shrubs and trees, well away from dense evergreens which might shade and hide them from view. When happy, winter aconites will spread about freely from seed dispersed in late spring.

Like snowdrops, winter aconites are not native to the British Isles, hailing from warmer areas of Europe such as the Balkans, Italy and Southern France. Nevertheless they are obliging, unfussy little visitors that never fail to open their flowers, even on the frostiest winter morning. They share with their cousins, the buttercups, that unique characteristic of being able to reflect light, even in the absence of sunshine. Pure joy. I recommend planting winter aconites beneath a yellow witch hazel or early flowering cherry such as Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’, surrounded by snowdrops, Leucojum vernum, primulas and plumonarias that will produce enough luxuriant foliage to disguise the aconites as they turn and fade.

Eranthis hyemalis, Chelsea Physic Garden, Jan 2015


Categories: Bulbs, Daily Flower Candy, Flowers, Foliage, Photography, Plants

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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28 comments On "Daily Flower Candy: Eranthis hyemalis"

  1. A much needed burst of sunshine on a dull day…thank you Dan and hope you have recovered now and a feeling more like celebrating your belated birthday?

    1. Thanks Anne. Apart from a persistent cough, which is driving everyone around me insane, I am back on form. The cough has to go as we are going to the theatre tomorrow night (one of my Christmas presents to Him Indoors). Have a lovely weekend.

      1. I know that cough, bring something sugary to suck on, it can keep the coughing urge in check.

      2. Thanks Dean. Last week I had so much sugary cough mixture and so many cough sweets that I was wired from about midday everyday! The best thing is that I have stopped coughing at night, so am getting some decent sleep. Have a great weekend.

      3. Okay, now I know that this is going to sound ridiculous, but it is a remedy that my mother taught me for the tickle in your throat. Chew on a piece of tissue. It is worth a try. Many people have thanked me for this, even though they were indeed sceptical.

      4. Touch wood, the cough has been much better today, although it’s far from gone. I’ll give your method a try tonight: perhaps it’s best I don’t start chewing tissues at work! I am intrigued to see if it works for me.

  2. Another lovely post – thanks. I know Eranthis from my time as a volunteer gardener at the Pines Calyx garden in St.Margarets Bay near Dover. They formed a beautiful sunny carpet and that early colour is a delight when there is little else about.

    1. What a lovely place to volunteer Becky. The Pines is not so far from us and we’ve visited many times. However I have never been early enough in the year to see the aconites. I bet they love the chalky soil.

  3. Hi Dan,
    It is a pleasure to be able to watch those lovely winter aconites so early. Mine are still deep under the ground ( and snow ), waiting for warmer days. I can’t wait for them to brighten my garden. Meanwhile I can enjoy yours 🙂 .
    Have you ever planted them in a pot? I wonder if I could grow them in a large pot in a cold room to make them bloom in January, I have to try the “trick” next time.
    I am glad to hear you are much better now even if the cough is still annoying.
    Anyway, enjoy the play at the theater and have a nice time with H.I.
    Have you both a wonderful weekend.

    1. I am not sure about growing them in a pot Paul. I am sure you can, but it would have to be kept evenly moist. Perhaps a terracotta pot plunged into the ground might work, then it could be lifted and brought inside for flowering? I’ve managed to keep snowdrops going pots, but in a shaded cold frame.

      We’re looking forward to the theatre, in Canterbury. It’s not often we get out to see a play. Have a lovely weekend. Dan

  4. What a glorious picture of that Eranthis and another great blog!! A finely chopped hot chilli or two, two desert spoonfuls of honey and the juice of a whole lemon. Put in to a jam jar, lid on and shake thoroughly. Take a desertspoonful 3 times a day and it’s guaranteed to cure that cough!!!!!

  5. I have been trying to get a clump of Eranthis established in my garden now for years. Last spring 3 bloomed, the year before 2, so perhaps I am on an upward trend? The bulbs dry out very fast apparently, so by the time we get them they are borderline at best for viability.

    1. Fingers crossed for 4 or 5 blooms this year then! Here we tend to plant ‘in the green’ during a time of year when drought is uncommon. Frankly drought is uncommon for about 5o weeks out of 52 😉 You need a friend with a big clump who will dig you some up for immediate transplanting.

  6. Oh how I love aconites. I don’t have any here yet but, a little later in the year, the patches of celandine under our walnut bring me the same kind of pleasure. And now I’ve seen your aconites, I’m going to pluck up courage and ask a friend who has them nearby for some. Love Sally’s cough remedy. I’ve so many chillies hanging drying (and a seasonal cough myself), I am directly trying it!

  7. Hi Dan
    I’m a big fan of your blog and your gardens. I’m an avid gardener though I’m just finding my feet in our first garden. Your blog has inspired me to embark on a similar project to your coastal garden and I would really appreciate any tips/guidance.
    Many thanks

    1. Hi Garreth. Glad you’re a fan of the blog. Exciting times ahead if you are planning your own project. My top tips would be:

      1) Live with your garden for a bit if your haven’t already and take time to decide what you want.
      2) Be over-ambitious to start with. Decide what you’d want in an ideal world, where money and time was irrelevant, and then see how you can achieve it. If you are having trouble thinking big enough, get some expert help to assist you in seeing your garden’s full potential.
      3) Before planting trees in a small space, consider their size in 10 and then 20 years. Then decide how many you want and where. It’s easy to overdo trees in the interest of making an ‘instant’ garden.
      4) Think how you can create shelter and a nurturing microclimate. Avoid solid fences and walls that might create wind tunnels and turbulence (fatal by the sea).
      5) Unless you are happy with a shady garden, and they can be wonderful, treasure and protect every opportunity to get sunshine into your garden. It will bring flowers on earlier, allow you to grow more variety and give you something to sit in whilst you enjoy the fruits of your labours.

      Hope this helps. Good Luck! Look forward to hearing more about your plans. Dan

  8. My eranthis are in the process of being buried under 24″+ inches of snow as I type this… so I don’t expect to see any sign of them for quite some time yet! Thanks for the “preview” from yours. 🙂

  9. I have never had any luck with winter aconites, we tried them at Cliffe and they failed miserably. I heard that they are not keen on acidic soil, perhaps it was that. Especially lovely words today x

  10. Love winter aconites, we planted over three thousand Eranthis in the green last year along with Galanthus and Camassia growing in our apple orchard.

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