Min­ing for gold

Nurs­ery­man Joe Shar­man is known for his snow­drops, but win­ter aconites are also in his sights

Country Life Every Week - - My Week -

IT may be mid­win­ter, but it’s not nec­es­sar­ily bleak when swathes of win­ter aconites burst forth, bring­ing us the il­lu­sion of warmth and sun­shine. Like a scat­ter­ing of golden pen­nies, they il­lu­mi­nate the grassy banks, church­yards and old gar­dens of our coun­try­side. Amid the masses, there’s the oc­ca­sional nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring but un­ex­pected de­vi­a­tion, just the sort of thing that plants­man Joe Shar­man seeks out.

The cul­ti­var Orange Glow is one of the early ones, flow­er­ing in Jan­uary, its colour­ing a rich orange. ‘This was my first un­usual Eran­this. It was brought by a fel­low galan­thophile, Rev­erend Blake­way-phillips, from a colony he was grow­ing in his gar­den and sold to me at an RHS show,’ he re­calls.

Mr Shar­man no­ticed marked dif­fer­en­tials in the qual­ity and colour in­ten­sity of its self­sown seedlings and made care­fully con­sid­ered se­lec­tions, which he prop­a­gated, fur­ther iso­lat­ing and re­pro­duc­ing only the best off­spring, improving and strength­en­ing the orig­i­nal cul­ti­var.

In Euan Bunclark, the acid-yel­low petals are so deeply cut and di­vided that they re­sem­ble aconite fo­liage. Mr Shar­man un­earthed this one via a cus­tomer at a Belvoir Castle plant fair, who was des­per­ately try­ing to rid them from her gar­den. He named the cul­ti­var after the lady’s nephew, Euan, who had died trag­i­cally.

Dou­bles most cer­tainly dif­fer­en­ti­ate, but then they, too, can be­come very sim­i­lar. E. hye­malis Flore Pleno cov­ers a mul­ti­tude of sins, al­most an um­brella group­ing of dou­bles, as if this were the only defin­ing fac­tor. How­ever, Mr Shar­man has a sharper, more de­ter­mined se­lec­tion of dou­ble-flow­ered cul­ti­vars: Clare Swales is a gar­den-found, semi-filled, but­ter­cup-yel­low form with 10–12 el­e­gant, long nar­row petals; Noel Ayres has a fully ‘filled’ two-tone form, its rich but­ter-yel­low in­ner is al­most en­tirely en­cased in green outer petals.

The lat­ter is a won­der­ful old find, shown to Mr Shar­man by An­gle­sey Abbey’s head gar­dener, Richard Ayres. His fa­ther, the for­mer head gar­dener, dis­cov­ered the gem on the es­tate and tucked it away in an off-lim­its area. Ayres Jr felt the now size­able colony mer­ited a place in the wider gar­den and in the pub­lic eye, so he gave Shar­man a gen­er­ous pot of blooms to present and ex­pose at the RHS early-fe­bru­ary Show 1994.

Mr Shar­man’s most re­cent, per­sonal ‘foundling’ is St­effi, ‘a com­pletely new break-

through,’ he en­thuses. ‘I’ve not seen any­thing like it be­fore: a pure, com­pletely dou­ble cul­ti­var in which all the re­pro­duc­tive or­gans have been trans­formed into lay­ers of bright-yel­low petals.’ More of a triple than a dou­ble, it’s a form he’s seen in other mem­bers of the but­ter­cup fam­ily: ‘I knew it was pos­si­ble, but this is the first ever seen in Eran­this.’ Although the ma­jor­ity of new va­ri­eties re­main chance gar­den finds, he also seeks out new in­tro­duc­tions via the trade. Lady Lamortagne, for ex­am­ple, came from his aconite whole­sale sup­plier, who showed him a taller, more vig­or­ous form, which, un­usu­ally for dou­bles, is fer­tile.

Dou­bles fas­ci­nate Mr Shar­man—they’re more dif­fi­cult to prop­a­gate, they rarely come true from seed and many are ster­ile, so a fer­tile dou­ble is worth its weight in gold.

Eran­this hye­malis and its cul­ti­vars are wide­spread, but, of the other seven species, yel­low-flow­ered E.cili­cica, named after its na­tive habi­tat in Cili­cia, Turkey, is not un­like it (some say it’s too sim­i­lar to war­rant species clas­si­fi­ca­tion). Its late-ap­pear­ing flow­ers are even more golden and the young, more finely dis­sected fo­liage emerges bronze be­fore turn­ing green.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, E. hye­malis and E. cili­cica have been de­lib­er­ately hy­bridised to cre­ate a num­ber of gar­den cul­ti­vars, in­clud­ing Eran­this x tu­ber­genii Guinea Gold. This well-known se­lec­tion flow­ers as late as March/april and bears sin­gle, re­ally deep-yel­low flow­ers, which are uniquely scented.

The re­main­ing Eran­this species com­prise a third yel­low one, E. longis­tip­i­tata, and four white-flow­ered east­ern/asian species that are less suited to our cli­mate.

Mr Shar­man’s fo­cus is on propagating and breed­ing re­ally good plants for Bri­tish gar­dens and, over a dozen years or so, he has qui­etly gath­ered a choice and var­ied Eran­this col­lec­tion, which presently amounts to some 25 named species and cul­ti­vars. Jacky Hobbs Visit www.monksil­ver­nurs­ery.co.uk for in­for­ma­tion and plant and seed sales. Joe Shar­man will be show­ing at My­d­del­ton House, En­field, Mid­dle­sex, on Satur­day, Jan­uary 28, and at the Alpine Gar­den So­ci­ety Fair, Fe­bru­ary 4, at Ford Hall, Lille­shall Na­tional Con­fer­enc­ing Cen­tre, New­port, Shrop­shire

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