At this time of year, a large tree near where I live fills me with hope for good weather to come and anticipation of the burgeoning spring season ahead. This is because underneath its bare canopy there is a sea of beautiful little yellow winter aconites.
While a lot of colour from tree bark, evergreens and flowering shrubs can be seen in our gardens through the winter, it is always a pleasant surprise to encounter something so vivid and spring-like.
Winter aconites are low-growing hardy woodland plants that grow from tubers, like dahlias. They resemble buttercups, and have a ruff of green leaves below each bloom. This foliage looks like a lush carpet spread out on the ground.
In common with other bulbous plants, aconites do well under trees, and don’t seem to mind about the competition for water and nutrients from their larger neighbours.
Having said this, they do appreciate moist soil and a bit of sunlight. Winter weather conditions suit them – lengthy periods of rain provide nice damp ground for them to leap into growth, and leafless trees enable them to take advantage of the light.
During the rest of the year, the trees provide leafy shelter like an umbrella, which prevents dormant bulbs getting too wet and succumbing to rot.
If you’d like aconites in your own garden, plant tubers in autumn in dappled shade and well-drained soil. You can achieve a natural effect by spacing them randomly at a shallow depth. They will naturalise beautifully and spread about.
For a pleasing hotchpotch of colour, mix aconites with early crocus, snowdrop bulbs and miniature cyclamen. You don’t have to wait till the end of the year to plant them as you can buy winter aconites ‘in the green’ in February and March. These are established plants that still have leaves after flowering, so there is no problem with popping them in the ground straightaway.
One of the best things about having aconties in your garden is that hungry bees emerging from hibernation and looking for early nectar and pollen love them, too, and appreciate the resource at this scant time of year.
Once your aconites are established, pick a few for display – I’ve seen them looking super as a table centrepiece, their perfect little flower heads floating in a bowl of water.
MUST-BUY PLANT: Orchids
EVERY DAY: Phalaenopsis (moth orchid)
This is the most popular of orchids to grow as they flower a number of times through the year indoors and have long-lasting blooms in zingy colours.
Unusual but easily available online, this flowers almost as abundantly as a moth orchid. Its vivid flowers resemble little faces under an Indian headdress!
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