Alys Fowler

Winter aconite of­fers a glim­mer of hope

The Guardian - Weekend - - Front | Contents -

There is a lit­tle glim­mer of hope at the be­gin­ning of Jan­uary, a pool of but­tery sun­light that shim­mers on the floor as if to will the sun’s rays to grow a lit­tle stronger. Happy to nes­tle among snow­drops or gather around the feet of shrubs, the winter aconite, Eran­this hye­malis, is an eas­ily pleased sort.

It comes from the but­ter­cup fam­ily, and that much is read­ily iden­ti­fi­able from the jolly pol­ished yel­low flow­ers sur­rounded by a col­lar of green leaves, like a re­gal ruff. Na­tive to chalky wood­lands in cen­tral Europe, it gets its name from its will­ing­ness to flower be­fore ev­ery­thing else (hye­malis is Latin for winter-flow­er­ing). It will hap­pily do so from early Jan­uary into Fe­bru­ary, be­fore grace­fully re­tir­ing back to the soil.

Eran­this is a spring ephemeral, mean­ing it ex­ploits the short pe­riod of light be­fore the tree canopy ex­plodes into leaf, shad­ing the wood­land floor. In order to thrive, it needs to spend the rest of the year in dap­pled shade and mois­tur­ere­ten­tive soil.

Eran­this is per­fect for un­der a rose bush or shrubs, or around the base of de­cid­u­ous trees. They are shal­low rooted, pro­duc­ing tu­bers just be­low the soil sur­face, so are also use­ful for pots and win­dow boxes: any­where, in fact, where they can add a lit­tle spring colour around those that aren’t do­ing so much at this time. Once flow­er­ing is over, they re­treat back to their un­der­ground tu­bers un­til winter ap­pears again. They re­quire very lit­tle at­ten­tion, though the ad­di­tion of leaf mould in later spring to keep the tu­bers plump won’t go amiss. If you don’t have this, use a thin layer of well-rot­ted home­made com­post or shop-bought stuff.

I have a huge fond­ness for the vivid sul­phur of the straight species, but there is a ster­ile hy­brid called Guinea Gold (pic­tured top), which is richly golden above very slightly bronzed fo­liage; as well as the de­light­ful and re­fined

E. hye­malis ‘Sch­we­fel­glanz’ (cen­tre), which has pale apri­cot cream flow­ers.

Eran­this is sold ei­ther as dor­mant tu­bers or “in the green”, mean­ing in leaf. Dor­mant tu­bers are cheap, but be wary of ones that look par­tic­u­larly dried out, as these of­ten fail to es­tab­lish. You can take a punt with the straight species, but for named va­ri­eties I would buy pot­ted plants in the green. Ex­pect to pay about £8 for a sin­gle plant or £10-15 for 25 dry tu­bers. If you opt for tu­bers, get them in the ground as quickly pos­si­ble; if the grounds is too frozen, get them started in trays of com­post and plant out as soon as you can work the soil

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