There is something especially welcome about a rockery plant which comes into bloom before the flowers of Aubrietia, Alyssum, Arabis and the bulbs have livened up the scene in spring. Hepatica has the added advantage of thriving in partial shade as well as in full sun, and it is therefore surprising that it is not more widely grown. Peat or compost should be added to the soil before planting.

VARIETIES: H. nobilis (H. triloba) is the species you are most likely to find. The basic details are height 3 in., spread 1 ft. (lowering period February-April. The bluestarry flowers, measuring 1 in. across, appear on short stalks above the tri-lobed leaves. White, pink and red varieties are available, but you will have to search to find them. H. transsilvanica is a similar plant but the leaves and flowers are larger. Best of all, perhaps, is the lavender-flowered H. media ‘Ballardii’.

SITE AND SOIL: Well-drained but damp soil is required -thrives in sun or partial shade.

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