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Easter bonny; Give praise to the pasque flower, a heavenly vision right through its furry, fluffy cycle You can't move for chocolate, bunnies and chicks but for a proper Easter treat, take in the beauty of this tough-loving, touchy-feely flower.

Byline: CAROL KLEIN

Plants that derive their names from a festival or holiday are quite unusual. There are Christmas roses and, come to that, Lenten roses too - helleborus niger and helleborus x hybridus, respectively.

A common name for the little wild daffodil, Narcissus pseudonarcissus, in full flower now, is the Lent lily. There are Michaelmas daisies too, whose blooming coincides with Michaelmas, one of the two hiring days for farm labourers.

But just one plant is given the title of pasque flower, Easter flower, and that is Pulsatilla vulgaris. Its flowers are fleeting. In dull weather they bend their heads, quiet and hardly noticeable, each tiny hair on the outside of their petals imbued with droplets of water.

When the sun begins to shine, the flowers turn their faces towards it, so many stars of rich, deep purple, each lit by a boss of golden stamens with a tufted purple stigma at its heart.

Later the seed heads complete the furry, fluffy cycle - stems extend to ensure distribution of the seed. They are elegant, turning from purple to white as they age, each tendril covered in fine fluff.

When the seeds are ripe each takes off on its own parachute, the breeze catches the tiny hairs and lifts the precious package, transporting it to pastures new. At their glistening best, lit by the spring sunshine, seed heads are easily as beautiful as the flowers.

There are very few plants we would select for their texture. We often ignore the feely, touchy aspect to concentrate on more obvious qualities - structure, form and colour. Colour is an abstract concept but texture is immediate and intimate - it invites us to touch. Texture adds a new dimension.

Every bit of Pulsatilla vulgaris - flowers, stem and leaves - is covered in down. Before the flowers even think of making an appearance, the finely cut leaves appear. They are ferny and silvered at first, emerging tentatively like inquisitive sea anemones as if to feel the air.

Before they have developed fully, they are rapidly overtaken by the flowers. If grown in poor conditions, the silvery sheen is at its most pronounced. All alpine anemones relish thin, alkaline soils and love an open, sunny situation.

Reginald Farrer, one of the great alpine growers, suggested the Romans carried P. vulgaris to England by importing seed in lime mortar or stone, and that many of the places where it naturalised are the sites of former Roman earthworks.

Although it will survive on richer, more fertile soil, it will not be itself. Any plant grown under conditions vastly different from those it is used to in the wild is liable to have a personality change.

Its charm is that its growth is compact and sturdy. A regime of rich soil and overfeeding will make leaves, flowers and seed heads unnaturally tall and weak. It will lose its sparkle. Treat it mean!

Pulsatillas thrive in well-drained, sunny conditions. If your soil is on the lush side, dig out a few spades-full where they are to grow, mix into it equal quantities of sharp grit and put in your plants. It can be as dry as you like, although one good watering will help settle plants in. Clumps can last for years and years. Most of the soil at Glebe Cottage is heavy clay, well-nourished and well-worked over the last 30-plus years we've been here. Occasionally it is just too rich and luscious for some plants.

But there's one place where those plants that thrive on neglect and demand poor, well-drained soil in full sun, love to live. It's our big raised bed that runs at right angles from the terrace, about four metres across at the north and tapering with a rounded southern side about 1.2m. Its outer walls (it is about six metres long) are built from local stone. I made it 31 years ago.

A few years ago we planted out all our spare pulsatilla plants at the end of a raised bed, several feet from the ground. They are opening their flowers now, which are beautifully backlit both early and late in the day.

If you have the chance to see them in this way, perhaps by planting them on the top of a wall, so much the better.

At their glistening best, lit by the spring sun, seed heads are as beautiful as flowers

CAPTION(S):

Pulsatilla vulgaris, the Easter flower. Below, Carol collecting seed Glorious
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Title Annotation:Features; Opinion Column
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Apr 5, 2015
Words:739
Previous Article:Glebe Cottage Diary; Lighting up my days with little shocks of colour.
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