callmemadam (callmemadam) wrote,

Crowpightle & Goldy Knobs

What more cheering sight in spring than the buttercup-yellow of the first celandines in the hedge bottoms? According to Geoffrey Grigson’s invaluable book The Englishman’s Flora, ‘Spring Messenger’ is their Dorset name, though I’ve never heard them called that. In the garden they can become a pest, spreading by means of their weeny little tubers and then disappearing in summer so you don’t know where they are. To the fevered imaginations of the herbalists, these tubers resembled piles, hence Pilewort or Figwort. Bathe the affected area with the juice mixed with wine or urine is the helpful advice. In Scotland the comparison was with the teats of a cow’s udder and, according to the same source, farmers in the Highlands and Islands hung a bunch in the cow byre to promote creamy milk and good butter.

A few years ago there was a positive mania for cultivated forms of these celandines, Ranunculus ficaria. I remember standing behind a plant stall with customers asking incredulously, ‘You aren’t, seriously, selling these?’ Every show was full of them, millions were sold and there is still a National Collection stocking over a hundred cultivars. I wasn’t immune myself but only a couple have survived from those days. One is ’Brazen Hussy’, which was introduced by Christopher Lloyd. The leaves have lost some of their colour but the flower is still large and bright. Far better is this one, ’Randall’s White’. This is very well behaved, forming a neat clump that just gets a little bigger each year. I’ve used links for pictures because the plants are hard to photograph. The flowers only open in sunshine and the reflection of their shiny petals ruins the pic. One I liked a lot was called ‘Coppernob’ and had small bronze leaves and bright orange flowers. I placed it cunningly under a bronze carex, an excellent combination. Unfortunately it has got overlain and given up. Another fascinating plant was the double form, which may still be lurking down behind the shed. I really must go and look as there are mouse plants there, too, and I don’t want to miss them.
Tags: celandines, folklore, gardening, geoffrey grigson

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