One of my earliest memories is of gathering the varnished yellow flowers of Ranunculus ficaria, though then I neither knew nor cared what they were called as I joyfully bore them home in a little hot hand. If I had known I would no doubt have preferred to call them by the country name of celandines. They still fascinate me to this day, though bitter experience of kneeling in the mud extracting a host of seedlings or the result of too vigorous hoeing near the parent plants has taught me why, in some parts of Germany, they are known as ‘ the Devil’s wheat’. Though there is always hope of something new from their promiscuity.
There are now dozens of named varieties anyway. Of these the brightly yellow ‘Brazen Hussy’ is probably the first with dark foliage: but avoid planting it near the also dark leaved ‘Copper Neb’ whose orange petals have a tendency to turn white but for the centre. The effect is of fried egg and the two clash horribly. In a shady corner the old R. aurantiacus, orange with a coppery reverse to its petals and green leaves looks less aggressive. ‘Randall’s White’, whose leaves have a silvery cast with a central dark vein has the advantage over ‘Salmon’s White’; another good plant but with plain green leaves. One of my favourites (perhaps because we found it ourselves in a lane well trodden by cows) is the small-flowered yellow ‘Brambling’ whose leaves are pewter turning darker and overlaid by a green filigree. The late Richard Nutt used to say “For Heaven’s sake stop finding different leaves – can’t you find another coloured flower for a change!”Another favourite is ‘Collarette’ whose egg-yolk yellow rays of petals are spaced evenly round the tightly packed central boss.
And then there are the doubles, One might expect ‘Double Mud’ to be coffee or khaki but in fact it is a full double of a creamy shade with a greyish tint to the backs of the petals; ‘Double Bronze’ has chrysanthemum type slightly incurved petals darker on the reverse; while ‘Picton’s Double’ is a pale silvery yellow with a greenish centre. ‘Yaffle’ is well named, being green with a yellow mark along the petals – the flower is held well above its leaves, whereas ‘Greenpetal’ tends to be hidden among its foliage (quietly and stealthily choking its hapless neighbours). An impoverished young doctor’s wife in one of A.J.Cronin’s books overcame the dinner-party decoration problem by floating the heads of single yellow celandines among their leaves in a glass bowl, where they resembled miniature water-lilies.
Needless to say, celandines are remarkably trouble-free (well, except for their all too many seeds), their leaves emerging sometimes as early as November but fading away soon after flowering, No pests seem to attack them apart from the inevitable slugs and snails which are ever with us. Unfortunately our slimy acquaintances can be guaranteed never to eat the unwanted seedlings, only the one which just MIGHT be exciting.