Lambley Gardens & Nursery, 395 Lesters Road,  Ascot,  Victoria 3364
Phone +61 (03) 5343 4303,  Fax +61 (03) 5343 4257

Winter Aconite and other jewels

One of the great joys of mid-winter in my garden is the flowering of a patch of a winter aconite, Eranthis cilicica. Within a week of the aconite pushing through the soil surface in early July this precious plant is in full flower. Rich lemon chalices are surrounded by a ruff of dissected leaves bronze tinged at first but soon becoming deep glossy green. The flowers aren’t affected by the heavy rain, sleet, gale force winds and frost which we are likely to have during July.

Eranthis cilicica is a different species from the winter aconite found in so many northern European gardens, the closely related E. hyemalis. I’ve had no luck at all with the latter species although it grows really well in at least one Mt. Dandenong garden where it self-sows happily. Happily for us E. cilicica, a native of Turkey, flourishes in much hotter and drier conditions than E. hyemalis will.

My drift of the Turkish aconite, a modest drift it must be said, grows under a ‘Mt. Fuji’ ornamental cherry. This position suits them well, as they flower, seed and fatten their tubers whilst the cherry is bare of leaves. By the time the cherry is in new leaf in mid-October the aconite has gone into hibernation until the following winter. The aconite will occasionally germinate from ripe seed I scatter around the parent tubers. The take isn’t wonderful though and I probably would be more successful if I sowed the seed in a more controlled way. Eranthis seed isn’t viable for long so is best sown immediately. If kept dry for more than a week or two seeds are unlikely to germinate.

Turkey is also the centre of distribution for one of the most exquisite of all winter flowering bulbs, Iris reticulata. The first week in July saw the first clone to open. ‘Violet Beauty’ has intense violet flowers enlivened by a bright yellow stripe surrounded by white speckling on the falls. I’m lucky enough to have a hundred or so flowering in the Mediterranean garden. They are planted under a hummingbird trumpet , Zauschneria ‘Catalina’, which we cut back to the ground in late autumn. Iris reticulata ‘Springtime’ with its Cambridge blue standards and Oxford blue falls is flowering nearby. Whilst its flowers are quite small ‘Springtime’ is never-the-less very beautiful. Both flower before their leaves develop as does the next.


Iris 'George'  Iris reticulata 'Springtime'  Zauschneria 'Catalina'


Iris ‘George’ is a hybrid between I. reticulata and the closely allied, larger flowered species I. histrioides. The latter is endemic to a small area in north-central Turkey. Whilst Iris ‘George’ has stunning purple flowers they look best close up or at least they do in my garden perhaps because they get visually lost in the dark brown of the composted pine bark mulch. The markings on the falls aren’t particularly bright so the flowers do look a bit sombre, a bit leaden on cloudy days. Mind you they do glow on the odd sunny day we get in July.

As leavening last week I divided a fairly large flowering clump of an ivory hoop petticoat daffodil and planted the bulbs amongst the Iris ‘George’. I often dig up, divide and transplant bulbs when they are in full growth. If planted straight away no harm comes to them. If I were to wait until the bulbs become dormant I’m both likely to forget where the bulbs are and what I was going to do with them.