Hepaticas are small clump-forming perennials and are in my favourite plant family, Ranunculaceae. Flowering begins in late February or early March and new leaves start to unfurl just after the flowers. The leaves usually have three lobes, sometimes five, most are mainly green but there are some plants which have leaves variegated or marbled. Hepaticas grow in the wild on the edge of woodland in most of Europe, Asia, North America and Canada but not in Great Britain.
I first became aware of hepaticas some thirty five years ago when I was visiting a garden in Dorset in early March with my mother-in-law, a very keen gardener. She called them Anemone hepatica. There were several large clumps with pink or blue flowers growing at the front of a mainly deciduous shrub border (which would cast shade in summer). Growing with them were Galanthus nivalis, small narcissus, Eranthis hyemalis, pulmonarias, crocus and some evergreen ferns. Although the galanthus and eranthis were going over, I can still remember the excitement I felt on seeing these plants.
Many years later after I had moved to Ladywood I started to search for them. Their name had changed to Hepatica nobilis and I also discovered H. americana and H. transsilvanica. The very first one I bought was from Beth Chatto, H. nobilis 'Double Pink'; it has lovely small deep rose pink flowers opening wide to the sun, a real gem. H. nobilis is a superb garden plant for a semi-shady spot. It has handsome dark green glossy leaves and some with wonderful marbling.
I have plants with blue, pink and white flowers, one which has semi-double flowers and the beautiful double I mentioned earlier. My favourite blue has to be H. nobilis 'Cobalt' with a rich dark blue flower, stunning.
H. transsilvanica is larger in leaf and flower than H. nobilis. I have some with pale pink flowers and a lovely pale blue. Plants can be found growing wild in Romania.
H. americana and H. acutiloba are both North American species. H. americana is a smaller plant than H. acutiloba with round shaped leaves and quite large pale lavender blue or pale pink flowers. H. acutiloba has more pointed leaves and the flowers tend to be more upright and they are mainly white although there are a few with blue or pink flowers.
With trial and error I think I have found the best place for them in the garden where they are never disturbed and over the years have started to self-seed. Mine seem to like a moist well-drained soil which is only moist in spring. I put home-made leaf compost around them every winter / spring. They have some protection from the hot summer sun and, though the soil is much drier in the summer, they dont seem to mind as they are by then mostly in the shade.
First published in the Ranunculaceae Group Newsletter, Spring 2011
and subsequently in Cornucopia Issue 29.
© Copyright for this article: Sue Ward
This article was taken from a copy of Cornucopia that was published in 2012. You could be reading these articles as they are published to a national audience, by subscribing to Cornucopia.