One of the first plants to bloom in my garden is winter aconite. It usually starts blooming in February and continues into March. I treasure its cheery yellow flowers with their shiny green collars because they brighten what can otherwise be a cold and dreary time of year.
Winter aconite is in the buttercup family and is native to Europe. It is about four inches tall and prefers woodland soil in deciduous shade. It wants to be cool in the summer but not too dry, and it will not tolerate wet soil. It grows in zones 3 to 7. Winter aconite is a bulb (technically a tuberous rhizome) and goes dormant when the weather gets hotter. Some sources state that it is poisonous to humans, but there have been no reported incidents. It is deer resistant and black walnut tolerant.
You can order winter aconite as a dried bulb. It is recommended that the bulbs be soaked overnight to increase success. Despite soaking, I never got more than one or two bulbs to grow into plants. I tried several times. Then a friend of mine gave me some growing plants (thanks Julie!), and my little patch of winter aconite began in earnest.
Winter aconite naturalizes well once you get the initial plants going. The best way to spread it is to collect the seeds and sprinkle them where you want them. If you don’t collect the seeds, they tend to germinate around the base of the mother plant. My winter aconite has been so successful that, after ten years, I was able to sell growing plants in my snowdrop catalogue (although next year I need to give the patch a “rest”).
Now we get to the “wonder of nature” part. Right down the street from my plant nursery is a public park owned by Radnor Township (Pennsylvania, US) called Ithan Valley Park. The property was originally an old Main Line estate. During the early 1900s, it was owned by the botanist John Evans, and he maintained an arboretum of exotic plants there. Evidently his collection was amazing, but today few of the original plants remain.
At some point John Evans planted winter aconite on his property. The conditions there proved to be ideal with the cool, moist woodland soil and deciduous shade that winter aconite loves. Today Ithan Valley Park is covered with sheets of winter aconite every February and March. There is so much yellow that I think it must be visible from outer space. It truly is a wonder of nature that I want to share with you.
To truly appreciate the spectacle, you need to visit in person (I apologize to my non-local readers). Ithan Valley Park is located at 642 South Ithan Avenue, Bryn Mawr, PA 19010, at the intersection of South Ithan and South Roberts Roads. Time is of the essence because the winter aconite will only be blooming for a few more days.
I am linking this post to the Winter Walk-off 2012, which is a challenge by Les at A Tidewater Garden to share what can be seen within walking (or biking) distance of your home. Every photo in this post was taken at Ithan Valley Park, 8/10 of a mile from my house.
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