Early Blossoms Revive Spirit Of Spring

Whenever I feel worn out from the day’s activities, I slip on my old sneakers and take a stroll through the garden. I shouldn’t find this so relaxing this time of year, but I do.

I should be grumbling at all the work that lies ahead of me. The yard is covered with fallen twigs and leaves. Weedy quackgrass, chickweed and groundsel have already made their presence known.

Yet, amid all the weeds and debris, there is something very special taking place. Out of the cool soil, new life is emerging everywhere. It is such a thrill to uncover a group of tiny leaves working their way toward the light. Experiencing these moments rekindles my spirit.

Of all the plants in the garden though, those that delight me the most this time of year are the winter aconites. They bring back pleasant memories of my childhood, because they look just like buttercups.

From my childhood, I remember buttercups were the first sign of spring. I can recall the excitement of searching for them. Their sunny yellow blossoms were easy to spot tucked among the dormant tan grasses of winter. They were so perky, so fresh. I would gather as many as I could hold in my hand and take them home to Mama. Our little bouquet would float for days in a shallow dish of water on the kitchen table.

Since the buttercup was my first introduction to flowers, I simply had to have buttercups in my garden. Though winter aconites aren’t exactly like the wild buttercup, they come mighty close.

Their botanical name is eranthis, meaning “flower of spring” and they belong to the buttercup family - ranunculaceae. The bright yellow flowers sit atop green frilled collars. Though garden books say they bloom from late February through early March, I have seen them bloom for two months or more, depending on moisture and weather.

As woodland flowers, they love to grow under deciduous trees where they receive filtered light. They don’t do well under evergreens. The soil should be loose, rich in organic matter and moist during winter and spring. They are beautiful when planted along with crocus and snowdrops.

If you have ever planted winter aconites only to be disappointed by poor germination, the problem may have been that they dried out. The tiny tubers of eranthis tend to dry up quickly if they aren’t planted immediately. This may be one of the reasons we rarely see them offered for sale at our local nurseries. Even those purchased through bulb catalogs may not make it simply because they can’t survive the long wait before being planted. For this reason, never store the bulbs. Plant them immediately, even if it means planting them in containers.

The best time to plant eranthis is when they are in bloom. This is really impossible though, since I know of no aconite growers in our area. If you have friends in the area willing to separate and share them while in bloom, that’s great. Otherwise, we are left to the catalogs which only sell in the fall. Just plant them as soon as they come and hope for the best.

Once established, winter aconites will grow and spread rapidly by seed and root. Left undisturbed, they will make a beautiful blanket under deciduous plants.

Even though my garden is spotted with stand-ins for the “real” buttercup, I still search for fists-full of bouquets to take home to Mama.

Special note: The Bonner County Master Gardeners, along with the Farmers Market of Sandpoint, will host their third annual Horticulture Extravaganza Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Bonner County Fairgrounds.

It’s a full day of lectures, including a plant clinic and trade show. The lectures are divided into three areas: perennials, marketing and home horticulture. Special guest speaker will be Robert L. Johnston, Jr., founder of Johnny’s Select Seeds. Admission is $15 at the door, call (208) 263-8511 for more information.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Phyllis Stephens The Spokesman-Review

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