In south-east England Eranthis hyemalis flowers in January, the shining yellow chalices on sturdy 4” stems sometimes resting on the snow, their divided green ruffs dusted with frost crystals. Arising from knobbly mud-brown tubers they are completely hardy. Parkinson wrote of them in 1629. Nowadays many a churchyard has a drift of aconites under its trees or weaving cheerful tallow skeins between the shrubs. From some gardens have naturalised themselves in nearby fields and hedges.Eranthis ‘Orange Glow’, exhibited by the Rev Blakeway-Phillips in January 1989, came from the Copenhagen Botanic Garden. There it had languished until rescued, but proved to do better here and usually comes true from seed, adding a warmer note of pale orange to a bleak month. Patricia Dales’ E.’Pauline’ gained a PC in 1986, and was a pale yellow clump in a garden swarm – but little has been seen of it. Recently there have been exciting arrivals from Germany: E ’Schwefelglanz’, reputed to be between apricot and straw colour with apricot anthers, E. ’Zitronenfalter’ a pale lemon-yellow and E ‘Grunling’ which boasts green stripes on its yellow segments. E.’Gothenburg’ is semi-double and produces seed. And for those who like doubles there is the, sometimes untidy, greenish-yellow E.’ Noel Ayres’ from Anglesey Abbey ( of snowdrop fame), named for a head gardener there.
Eranthis cilicicus is now considered by some to be a synonym for E. hyemalis, though the flower stem is shorter (21/2”) and the leafy bracts more finely dissected. Also E. hyemalis is happy on an alkaline soil in light shade and dislikes drying out in summer. E. cilicicus prefers a neutral soil and will suffer a warmer site. There is a hybrid between the two x tubergenii ‘Guinea Gold’ raised in Haarlem in 1923. The more globular flowers are a richer golden-yellow, scented but sterile, and the narrow bronzy green bracts distinctive. Both taller and larger than its parents, as progeny often are, it is also more expensive as progeny are apt to be: though the flowers are long-lasting. There was asibling of the same parentage, the lemon-yellow ‘Glory’ which seems to have vanished …….unless, perhaps, it lingers unnoticed in some old garden.
Eranthis pinnatifida is from northern Japan, where it grows in northern woods. The daintier white flowers are smaller than E hyemalis/cilicicus and barely stalked. This one prefers well-drained but raised peaty beds, takes several years ( if ever) to establish, and is, in short, difficult and probably better in a greenhouse. A temperamental oriental beauty.
E.hyemalis will return unfailingly every year, seeding gently around… and into the lawn if one is near. Incidentally, in a few gardens mature tubers will not’ take’. Try giving them a good soaking before planting , or grow them fro seed. There to cheer us in early spring their timing is excellent. Once the days grow warmer and their amber seeds are shed other, larger plants take the limelight and the aconites quietly vanish for another year.