After the snowdrops – celandines

by David Andrews

Snowdrops, it seems, engender either love or a strange apathy – white blobs to some, to others their subtle variations a source of endless fascination. But when their season draws to a close a new one will begin for the connoisseurs of the lesser celandine who eagerly inspect their seedlings to see what new delights this year may bring.
Ranunculus ficaria is an easy plant to grow and the wild form occurs in abundance in damp places in sun or semi-shade but flowering better in sun (but not baked in summer). As with many plants, variations in the natural population occur and have been selected, with reference to a double form dating from the 16th century, but in recent years there seems to have been an explosion of new selections.

My Plant Finder for 1987 has 14 entries under R. ficaria but of course this does not mean that’s all there were. By 1992-1993 this had increased to 23, to 99 in 2002-2003 and today in the on-line version, 112 entries are listed. And this is omitting several worthy forms that I know of.
Are all these new names justified? As with snowdrops I rather doubt it but the ‘Ranuncophile’ will look for variation in leaf markings, which may include silver, bronze or near-black and variegation, as well as leaf shape. Flowers come in different sizes and petal shape; the colour of the upper surface can range from near-white through shades of yellow to orange while the reverse may be shades of green, grey, purple or bronze. In some flowers the petals are almost entirely deep green. Flowers may be single, semi or fully double or ‘anemone centred.’ Clearly the number of permutations possible is huge.
My favourites? It is difficult to choose but one which is very popular which I don’t much care for is ‘Brazen Hussey’ with bright yellow flowers and dark bronze leaves. However, during the previous decade this has crossed with other flower colours giving rise to what I think are much more attractive plants. ‘Coppernob’ combines the bronze leaf with the orange flower of var. aurantiacus (a cross which also occurred spontaneously in my own garden and I prefer my own seedlings.) The striking combination of bronze leaf with white to cream flowers is represented by ‘Crawshay Cream’, ‘Hyde Hall’ and ‘Deborah Jope’.

For doubles, ‘Ken Aslet’ is an excellent double white while ‘Elan’, whose double cream petals have a dark grey-green reverse, and ‘Damerham’, whose double yellow flowers have a strong, green central boss, are forms I would not be without.
There are so many but perhaps my favourite of all, not available through any nursery I know of, is ‘White Claw’, a single with narrow, pointed petals, creamy white inside but strong purple on the reverse.
What of the future? Obviously there are gaps in the list of possible combinations. Where is the bronze-leaved double orange or the bronze-leaved double white – and how about the purple anemone centred flower with variegated leaves? I shall be on my knees in the celandine patch again this spring; the genes are there – dream on.