Erythronium tuolumnense

The erythronium most often seen in English gardens is the small European dog’s-tooth violet, E. dens-canis, a bulb with pink, violet or white flowers in spring and broad marbled leaves. The petals are reflexed, like those of martagon lilies, giving the flower a nervous, do-not-touch-me air. This is the easiest erythronium to grow, being lime-tolerant and successful in sun or shade, but some of the American species are taller and more conspicuous, with a wider colour range, including yellow. They are, however, more fastidious in their choice of home. They need moist, leafy, acid soil.

If you have such a place in your garden, you might like to experiment with some of the American species, perhaps starting with the Californian E. tuolumnense, a hardy and vigorous plant about 12 inches (30 cm) tall. The flowers are golden with a brown ring in the centre, several to each stalk, with the reflexed petals of all the genus, and the large leaves are bright green and shiny. ‘Pagoda’, a hybrid, has larger yellow flowers and bronzy leaves.

Plant the corms in groups 4 inches (10 cm) deep and 6 inches (15 cm) apart, and leave them undisturbed to form large clumps. In a moist, leafy place shaded by deciduous trees they mix well with small English wild flowers, such as wood anemones, which will not outshine their modest beauty. A white flowering cherry would provide a perfect spring canopy.

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