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THE SUNSHINE OF MY LIFE; Wordsworth loved them more than daffodils..and no wonder. These little yellow beauties are the first sign of spring.


There was one day last week when, just for a few hours, I felt spring had come.

On that sunny afternoon, pulling on my coat to go to hang out the washing, my nostrils were assailed by a smell that had not been part of my gardening consciousness for a long time.

It was a green smell, an earthy smell – the smell of spring.

It's surprising you can smell anything.

There's been so much rain you feel everything must have washed away.

Sights follow scents. Suddenly there are things to see. Catkins blow in the breeze that is going to dry my sheets and the stone steps down to the terrace en route to the washing line are edged with green and yellow.

And what a shockingly vivid yellow it is. It takes your breath away then makes you smile. Celandines must have the most blatantly coloured flowers ever.

Amid the dun remains of last year's life, they pull back their petals to absorb the sun's warmth. No petals in the world are as yellow or as lustrous. Buttercups come close – after all, they are near cousins – but the shine of celandine flowers as they open wide in the first spring sunshine is almost dazzling.

Ranunculus ficaria is the earliest of the buttercup clan and has evolved to cope with torrential rain by closing its petals to protect its inner workings when skies darken. Its petals or sepals are green–backed, camouflaged until the sun re–emerges. They are the happiest of flowers and the most welcoming.

Strange, then, that just the mention of their name can strike terror into some gardeners' hearts. It's true ranunculus ficaria can become a nuisance.

Once it has arrived, it will spread and the more assiduous the efforts to eliminate it, the more liable it is to colonise, producing a new plant from every tiny rhizome the gardener overlooks. Its old name is pilewort and on viewing its bunch of roots, it's easy to see why.

Under the doctrine of signatures – a medieval practice where plants were used to treat the ailments of organs they looked like – celandines were used as a cure for piles.

Sorry, there's no glamorous way of putting that.

What do you suppose was Wordsworth's favourite flower? Daffodils, surely?

Well no, in fact, the flower he worshipped was the humble lesser celandine – ranunculus ficaria.

He wanted to be associated with it when he died but unfortunately they got it wrong and it is an image of the greater celandine, chelidonium majus, that decorates his monument.

He wrote three poems to the lesser celandine, full of admiration for this plucky little plant which, so early in the year, braves the elements and on the first sunny day, opens its dull buds wide and thrusts up its vivid yellow stars.

I grow several selected forms. My favourite is R.f. Brazen Hussy, found in a wood close to Great Dixter, East Sussex, by Christopher Lloyd and taken home. The straightforward wilding is beautiful but there are many others, discovered in the wild and brought into cultivation.

Brazen Hussy is the most cheerful of all the cultivated celandines with vivid yellow flowers nestling among bronze leaves.

It has become a favourite for an early show in damp ground – we'll all have plenty of that this spring. Bright–blue spring skies are reflected in both its flowers and foliage on a sunny day.

When I add celandines to the garden, I plant them pot and all, with the pot rim submerged. When they have finished flowering, either lift the pot and plant something in its place or leave it in situ and remove spent flowers before they get a chance to seed everywhere.

In contrast to enjoying the foliage of celandines, it's time to say goodbye to some leaves.

The beautiful burnished foliage of epimedium versicolor neosulphureum has looked good all winter but its time is up.

Its delightful heart–shaped leaves must go if I'm to marvel at the exquisite flowers and translucent new foliage that accompanies them as they emerge.



PROLIFIC Ranunculus ficaria is attractive but can be aggressive

MIX UP Chelidonium majus or greater celandine

POETIC Wordsworth loved the lesser celandine

IT'S OVER Beautiful petals of eppimedium
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Feb 23, 2014
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