Garden log, 3.31.14

A gorgeous, clear spring day, high of 72. Planted a ‘Yuletide’ Camellia sasanqua, dug up Helianthus and Crocosmia to share with a local plant sale.  I am not entirely sure how I feel about these plants. They are gorgeous in flower and can fill a space quickly if that is what’s required, but demand active management if they are going to be kept in bounds. I believe for now that they’re an easy way to fill a border until the gardener has money to buy replacement plants or trade with friends.

HelianthusAnother four winter aconites, Eranthis hyemalis, emerged today–some corms/bulbs (it is time I mastered this terminology) sprouting two stems! Moved them promptly to a new home with more summer shade and a touch more lime in the soil. I think they’ll look fabulous next to the purple crocus, assuming that in their new location they don’t choose to bloom a month earlier than usual.

Tilled leftover manure-grit mixture from last year’s project into the new raised bed on the south side of the house. I cannot wait to get this bed planted; I have visions of the bed bursting with tomatoes and peppers. Salsa forever.


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.

More surprises: Winter aconite bulbs I didn’t know I had.

Cleaning out the shed the other day, I found a bag of winter aconite tubers (Eranthis hyemalis). Christmas in July! I am not sure if they’ll be viable, having been out of the ground for so long, but I will certainly give them a go. I may soak them 24 hours to see if that helps. They’ll get an extra helping of compost just for being themselves.

I know this bag survived a hungry mouse or two that resided in my shed this year. Not that I recommend offering the tubers as mouse bait, but if you have garden rodents, know that they might eschew nibbling these in favor of, say, your bird seed.

Tiny aconity

Remember when I was fretting about whether my winter aconites would show up?

I noted when finally I saw one, in early March.tiny aconity

Guess what? Eventually, I had eight.

aconites among crocosmia

Here they are declining amongst the growing foliage of Crocosmia ‘Lucifer.’ But I write this to remind me next year, when I reach (predictably) my late-winter panic, that yes, there are in there. Have patience.

Guess who showed up late to the party?

My aconite! (yes, singular. So far.)


I must remember not to pay attention to the timing of events in other people’s gardens. Mine appears to have its own microclimates that I cannot yet fully comprehend. Instead, I will try to remember that the aconites (there will be more) should emerge around the time the witch hazel starts looking properly radiant.

witch hazel

witch hazel flowers