Small but perfectly formed

There are some plants that as soon as you see a picture of them you say, “I must have that.” I have a list of these, my ‘wants’ list, that never seems to get any shorter. Does anyone else have the same problem?

Of course these are nurserymen who prey on people like me, putting delicious photos on the front cover of their catalogue, or smothering their website in mouth-watering pictures. If you have ever seen an early bulb display, with varieties of iris reticulata in full bloom, you will know the sort of fever that comes over us plantsmen and women. So when a specialist plant nursery put up a photo of eranthis pinnatifida, I was well and truly hooked.

This little beauty comes from Japan where it grows in mountain woodlands. From tiny rhizomes, so small you are unlikely find them again if you drop them, a shoot rises to three inches, bearing a white flower with broad, slightly overlapping sepals, and bifid petals tipped yellow, above a ruff of pinnate leaves. Too small for the hurly-burly of the open garden, it needs a sharply drained, humus-rich compost kept evenly moist. I found growing it in a trough of garden compost, with a northerly aspect, seems to suit it.


This also keeps any early slugs and snails away from such a tender morsel. Pests aside, this is a tough little plant, and should be grown ‘hard’, not molly-coddled. Division is possible but tricky with such a small rhizome; it is also difficult to see where the shoots are until it starts into growth, and it then doesn’t like to be disturbed. Growing from seed is the best way of increasing stock, three years being the time to reach flowering size.


But surely worth it for a flower like this. Is it on your ‘want’s list yet?

10 thoughts on “Small but perfectly formed

  1. Great post, thanks. My weakness is ericaceous plants that in my garden should only really be grown in pots, and then they soon outgrow the pots and end up in the ground. They will often survive, but not exactly thrive. But every time I see an azalea in full flower in May, I have to have one in my garden, even knowing all the pitfalls! And who wouldn’t want to grow their own blueberries?!


      1. They don’t enjoy the wet Welsh winters either! I bought one at Bodnant Garden a couple of years ago, they are stunningly elegant. But I will have to find a better drained spot for it to be able to last. I will try again at some point.


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