Eranthis emerges

Every spring, I wait for my winter aconites, Eranthis hyemalis, to emerge. They take forever.

eranthis non macro

I adore these tiny flowers. And for me, they are truly tiny: the blossoms are perhaps half an inch across. They are supposed to be among the first spring flowers, but mine always follow my snowdrops and crocus by about a month. My first one of the season finally emerged this week.

I am impatient to acquire the drifts of these plants that one sees in those gorgeous English gardening magazines. It will be a long time coming, I know.

So, it’s time for me to properly get a grip on good winter aconite culture. From all I have read, the tubers do not like to dry out, yet they require good drainage. Morning sun is fine, and the bases of deciduous trees are ideal places to grow them. Plant them “in the green,” which is to say, blooming (or not in the form of the tubers one will obtain from the mail-order catalogue), and they’ll take off. So they say.

Eranthis hyemalis

My present three-part theory as to why I have about five flowers instead of the full carpet I should have is:

  1. They should be sited elsewhere.
  2. Perhaps they get a bit too hot in summer
  3. Not enough lime.

Their present site is on the south side of the house, which doesn’t get as much sun as one might expect because the bed where they grow is shaded by my neighbor’s large oak trees from early May through November. They should get enough moisture, as they grow near my roses which I should water more but do well enough. Yet perhaps the roses drink all the water up, leaving none for the Eranthis tubers. I am sure they’re being disturbed too much, partly by me, and mostly by the perpetual encroachment of Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ into their territory. I am astonished at how robustly Crocosmia self-propagate.

Hot in summer? Perhaps. They’re well shaded by trees and the foliage of everything growing around them–Crocosmia, Iris germanica, roses, kniphofias. But where I live, temperatures in summer stay above 90 (32 C) during the day for weeks at a time, and perhaps most critically, don’t cool off at night. Nighttime temperatures regularly stay above 68 (20 C). I know my garden is full of odd little microclimates, though; perhaps the Eranthis will fare better in one of them.

And finally, lime. Although the catalogues and articles promise they will grow in any kind of well-drained soil, I have read recently that they have a preference for alkaline soil. The unimproved pH of my soil tends to be around 4.8. That’s not alkaline.

So as the flowers emerge, I plan to relocate them, one by one, to a tiny spot at the base of an oak tree where they’ll get some sun, but won’t bake. I won’t bother them there with vigorous digging, because it’s pointless planting very much else at the base of oak trees; and, knowing precisely where they are and what my objective is, I’ll remember to apply a little extra lime in this narrow spot. We’ll see what happens. Wish me luck.

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Cyclamen from seed: Presoaking method

The backlog of unsown seeds in my refrigerator and elsewhere in the house makes me no different from any other gardener, I suppose, but I don’t have the seeds of the plants I want now.

A personal law of mine, which I follow from time to time, says I may not purchase more seeds until I have planted the ones I have. Now is one of those times: I deeply want primula seeds, but I haven’t finished sowing my cyclamen yet.

Continuing with my unscientific experiment of propagating cyclamen from seed:

Cyclamen propagation: Presoaking method

Cyclamen have a hard seed coat. Softening the seed coat by presoaking the seeds is said to expedite germination.

  1. Soak the seeds for 12 hours in warm water. Rinse the seeds, and sow into pots.
  2. Cover the seeds with a thin layer of sand or vermiculite, then add a layer of grit or gravel (I’m using chicken grit).
  3. Water well. 
  4. Exclude light: I’m further covering these pots with black plastic, just in case the layer of grit isn’t enough.
  5. Keep the pots cool: They should remain between 60-69° F (16-21° C).
  6. Check back periodically. Germination may take 30-60 days.