Eranthis hyemalis

Eranthis hyemalis, The winter aconite is one of the joys of the dark months of late winter, its cheerful little bright yellow buttercup flowers, in their surrounding collars of narrow green leaves, surviving wind and snow without distress. Flowering in a succession, they should provide a show over several weeks. In bloom, the stalks are at most 4 inches (10 cm) high, but after flowering they go on growing up to at least 8 inches (20 cm) and can look untidy unless they are planted in (de-ciduous) woodland. Alternatively, an island bed makes a good site, with some shrubs for shade and some early summer perennials, like columbines and peonies, to conceal the fading aconites with their fresh foliage. But 1 must not give the impression that aconites need a large space, for a small, shady bed can suit them well, and I have clumps by my own front door to greet the winter guest.

Aconites will grow in almost any soil except heavy clay, and will often prosper in sun – some of the best I have seen are self-sown in a sunny gravel path, where the owners have sensibly left them alone. Once they have ‘taken’, each corm will in time form a large clump, and they seed themselves generously.

But suppose they fail to take? I am sure this is because the gardener has bought and planted hard, dry tubers in autumn. It is better to plant aconites in spring while still green and growing, and such plants can be bought for an extra price. But surely every gardener has a friend with aconites who will hand over a spadeful soon after flowering? My own plentiful stock has grown from just such a gift made years ago, and reminds me of the giver every spring.

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