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Cornucopia - A few easy hepaticas and the best ways to enjoy them

A few easy hepaticas and how to enjoy them
Glenn Shapiro

I have made a choice of nine very different but readily available hepaticas, which are happy in our North West gardens.

Hepatica acutiloba comes from America and Canada. The name ‘acutiloba’ refers to the fact that the leaves are more pointed than in the other American species H. americana (which prefers drier conditions than we can easily provide). I recommend H. acutiloba 'Alba', it should have a lot of upward facing flowers and is sometimes scented. The blues and pinks tend to be just either side of lilac in both the American species.

Hepatica nobilis AGM is a much loved wild flower over large areas of Europe (not the UK unfortunately), happy in deciduous mountain woodlands in the south, and down to sea level in the north, where it is protected by snow in winter. H. nobilis comes in a wide range of colours from white and blue through to cerise. To me the blue form is iconic and also the toughest, it would always be my first choice.

A variety of H. nobilis 'Cremar', or ex 'Cremar', will provide all year around interest. The marbled leaves expand towards the edge and are crenulated, a bit like curly parsley, and the flowers are usually cerise in colour. If you prefer pastel shades H. nobilis var. pyrenaica is an excellent choice. The distinctly marbled foliage remains in good condition until the next year’s flowers bloom prolifically, often as early as January. The colours range from white through apple blossom pink to powder blue. I have a violet blue centred one fading towards the edge of the petals which I am especially fond of. It is one of many I am propagating for our local Plant Heritage plant sales. Double flowers are always much sought after among hepaticas, and H. nobilis 'Rubra Plena' is fully double and as easy to grow as any of these hepaticas, and now quite reasonably priced. The colour however is more cerise than red. True red is rarely found except in the most expensive japonicas.

One fully double H. japonica I can recommend for an outdoor pot or even to plant in the garden is 'Orihime'. It produces lots of pale pink flowers in spring and often a few in the autumn, and it has become very reasonably priced recently. Most of the japonicas are best grown under cover.

In the late 18th century Prof. F Hildebrand began crossing H. nobilis with the only other European species, H. transsilvanica, a cross which has been repeated over the centuries to give rise to some excellent cultivars referred to as Hepatica x media. They have the vigour of transsilvanica and the free flowering qualities of nobilis and because they are sterile, the flowers tend to last a long time. I especially recommend two. My first choice has to be H. x media 'Blue Jewel'; with rounded lapis-lazuli petals, it certainly lives up to its name. A close second choice is H. x media 'Blue Eyes', this is a mid-blue, very free flowering and vigorous. H. x media 'Buis' is indistinguishable, so much so that I wonder if it is just a more commercial renaming of the former; they both possess the ‘Old Blue Eyes’ magic.

Often confused with H. x media 'Buis', is H. transsilvanica 'De Buis' but the latter is a larger flowering and vigorous strain of the Romanian species, with flowers on the darker side of mid-blue. It is well worth growing.

In the garden, choose a shaded position in an open free draining soil. A slope under deciduous trees would be very suitable. Remember they stay above ground all winter with the flower buds for next spring already formed. In the wild they would be tucked up under the snow, so here they are very vulnerable. You can cover them with upturned wire hanging baskets to protect them from garden wildlife. A few slug pellets would not go amiss.

I get the most enjoyment from my hepaticas in pots, especially the ones outside my office window which faces north west. They would be very happy on a patio, they enjoy the sun in the early spring when they first start flowering. You may need to remove some of the old leaves to see the flowers better. The new leaves follow towards the end of flowering and the pot will then need moving into the shade. Keep them quite damp while they are flowering and producing leaves but less so in late summer, and if they are under cover in the winter only water them very occasionally and choose a mild spell. If they have to stay outside in a pot, move them into a dry spot behind a wall, or under the house eaves. Don’t use a glass bell because they need fresh air around them.

First published in the Cumbria Group Newsletter, Autumn / Winter 2012
and subsequently in Cornucopia Issue 31.
© Copyright for this article: Glenn Shapiro

This article was taken from a copy of Cornucopia that was published in 2013. You could be reading these articles as they are published to a national audience, by subscribing to Cornucopia.


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