by Janice Freel

On a lovely sunny spring afternoon, about twenty of us gathered for the March Garden Walk with a Focus when Pete Watson introduced us to Hepaticas. The garden, through Sarah Carlton, has recently acquired plants from Glenn Shapiro who hosts the National Collection and garden staff hope to develop these plants for display and ultimately to grow in the garden.

Hepaticas are in the Ranunculaceae family and are known as “The Jewels of Spring”.  They were first noted in Japan in the 1600s.  More recently they have become very popular, in Europe from Scandinavia to the Pyrenees, Japan and East Asia.  There are about 550 named cultivars with mainly blue, pink, and white flowers, both single and double.  They are subalpine and almost evergreen. They grow in woodlands, and like humus-rich slightly acidic soil but can cope with mountain limestone.

Pete showed two examples already growing in the garden. We walked past beds of snowdrops to the start of the rockery.  Just down the first few steps on the left was a clump of white flowered Hepatica, with beautiful tiny and delicate white flowers.

On the left herbaceous bed in front of the greenhouse entrance was a large clump of Hepatica transilvanica. This blue flowered plant makes good ground cover.

We walked past the temperate greenhouse with magnificent Magnolias to the new collection of Hepaticas.  Once we saw the collection of delicate beautiful flowers of a variety of colours the most common comment was “Wow”.  Pete said they were not quite display-ready but they were very impressive, with double-flowered and single, white, pale blue through to violet.

Cultivation advice was given for growing in pots.   They don’t like wet, but don’t like to dry off. They need good air circulation.  Pete suggested a high potash feed every other week whilst flower buds are forming.  Then a balanced feed every 2 weeks until the new flush of leaves appear.  The collection is kept in a cool glass house with plenty of ventilation which is kept frost free particularly for Asian species and to mimic protection from snow cover in the wild although the majority of species are frost hardy in the garden.

They need shade in summer and re-potting in a deep, rather than wide, pot after flowering.  Potting is best in a John Innes No 3/ Leaf mould/ Perlite / fine bark mixture. 

Hepaticas germinate easily if seed is planted straight away but although you may not see any growth on top, the roots are growing underneath. You can prick out only after their 2nd or 3rd spring.

A most enjoyable talk on a plant that I had never come across before. I look forward to seeing the Hepatica collection developing at the Botanic Garden.

 Photos by Fiona Drummond