Friday, 25 February 2011

Why wait until spring - winter's Aconites flower now!

Originally posted February 2011, updated for January 2015

Winter Aconites - Compton Verney, Gary Webb
Whilst the grounds and gardens appear to sleep, there's a little beauty of a flower that keeps low to the ground, and flowers from the earliest days of January. Were it not for the intensity of its colour, it would go largely unnoticed and it amuses me how the flowers stay closed in a rebellious sort of way due to a lack of sunshine, but they always open up beautifully to worship the sun when it arrives.

I’ve worked with Aconites before but never in such quantity as those to be found at Compton Verney in Warwickshire. An inspired planting many years ago, they have spread across the ground beneath a horse-shoe shaped arrangement of mature Lime trees. The only draw-back is that the grounds are closed to visitors at this time of year so the display goes largely unnoticed except for the distant gaze of a few keen eyed staff and local residents. This fact spurred me on to photograph and make a feature of this planting, not only to record the beauty and quality of this lovely planting, but also to personally learn a little more about this lovely relative of the humble buttercup.

Winter Aconites - Compton Verney, Gary Webb
Winter Aconite, or Eranthis hyemalis as it is botanically known, grows from a tuber, with foliage to around 15cm tall. They generally prefer dappled shade, and will spread if happy in their environment. Were it not for regular mowing; they would have spread much farther throughout the west lawn at Compton. They are said to prefer well drained soil, and the trees that provide the necessary shade will also help control moisture levels throughout the root-zone. Having said this, the soil has been consistently moist for most of the winter, and this hasn’t had any ill effect on this year’s floral display, which is said to be one of the best in recent times.

Worth noting is the early flowering of this plant, with its brilliant buttercup yellow flowers held above bright green foliage. Although all parts are poisonous, the sight of massed yellow blooms all leaning towards the sun, is particularly uplifting at such a colour starved time of year. When frosty, the yellow flower heads remain tightly closed and spherical, held above a ruff of foliage.

Winter Aconites - Compton Verney, Gary Webb

The most reliable method to establish these plants in your garden is to order them from a bulb supplier for planting in the spring. The last ones I ordered arrived in mid spring, tightly packed in cardboard trays. They were ready to be planted straight out into moist, well drained soil. As the plants establish, they are then propagated further by lifting & dividing when ‘in-the-green', around April time. Thanks for reading my blog, I hope you found it interesting! 

Enjoy your gardens!


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