I first came across the lovely Eranthis hyemalis or Winter Aconites at my grandmothers garden in South Surrey near Vancouver. My mother showed me them blooming under a huge Cherry tree and there where hundreds of the golden gems dotting the ground . She wanted to know if she could grow them in Prince George(where I grew up), I said I didn’t know and would find out for her. As they seemed to be extremely dwarf Buttercup type plants I hoped they would grow in the north(zone3). It turns out that they can with protection as they are hardy from zone 3 to 8. Both my mother and grandmother are both dead now and I have thought about these delicate plants off and on through the years and wondered why were they so uncommon?
I hadn’t seen any Winter Aconites until last week when I was out looking for a suitable plant to highlight for this weeks article and stumbled upon them at one of my favorite gardens. I knew at once what I had come across and knew I would just have to write about them. after finding them at Glendale Gardens I wanted to see if they were planted elsewhere. The first place i thought of was Finnerty Gardens which are located on the grounds of the University of Victoria, so, I went there and was not disappointed. There were several groupings of them located near the edges of of the developed gardens.
Each plant is quite small but it’s impact is huge. they hug the ground being at the most 4in(10cm) high. Each stem bears a single large 5 petaled blossom which is 3/4 to 1 in(2.5cm) across. Each flower is charmingly encircled by a delicate green ruffle. If these plants are happy they will increase and create carpets of bright blossoms followed by delicate foliage and then finally go dormant in late spring.
The tiny Winter Aconites are truly one of the delights of spring which you won’t notice the rest of the year as they go dormant over the rest of the year. Being a member of theRanunculus family they do not like being moved which may have lead to their scarcity in gardens. This means they need careful placement. Fortunately there are many suitable locations which they can grow.
Ideally they are placed somewhere slightly out of the way that can be easily seen. Often good placement is at the base of a deciduous tree or in a rock garden niche which has sufficient moisture in the spring when they are erupting into a glowing show. They mix well with other spring bulbs such as Galanthus and Crocuses and other early blooming plants such as Primulas which bloom in the late January through early march period. It would also be possible to intermingle them with very low growing groundcovers which are not too dense.
Winter Aconites originate in Europe, growing from France through Italy and crossing the sea into Yugoslavia and Bulgaria. They have happily naturalised in other areas of Europe as well. They grow there in deciduous woodlands such as those dominated by Horse Chestnuts(Aesculus hippocastanum) and rocky places. Winter Aconite are relatively easy to grow as they are not too particular about soil and will accept any as long as its not at an alkaline or acidic extreme. It should be rich in nutrients such as a loam and able to retain moisture in the important early spring growing period.
If you are lucky you can find a neighbor who will share these dainty giants with you as they are best lifted and the tiny tubers divided up. The next best is to purchase the dormant tubers and then soak them a few days in damp peat before planting in the late summer about 1 in deep. Sow freshly collected seed in the location where they are to grow and then be patient as it tales 1 to 2 years before blossoms will be seen. Always remember to mark where you have planted the tubers or seeds so you will not accidentally disturb them while they are dormant.
Links to This Weeks Subject:
Finnerty Gardens where many of these pictures where taken is a hidden jewel at the University of Victoria grounds. It is a good place to learn the names of plants as many have been marked:
A good source of information on Winter Aconites
I look forward to chatting with you again next Sunday, right here.