Spring really is the time for bulbs to fill the garden with colour from the early snowdrops and narcissi through to tulips and alliums, we rely on them to kick start the garden into life. There are however, other plants that shine at this time of year and one of my favourites is Pulsatilla vulgaris ‘Rubra’.
I grow mine in a terracotta bowl shaped pot by my front door and for weeks now I have seen stalks gradually sprout from the crown and flower buds start to swell. The anticipation rises because I know what a beautiful flower it is once open. Finally, at the weekend, this warm sunshine coaxed the flowers to open displaying rich velvety red petals and a bright yellow centre.
The foliage is mid green in colour and delicately dissected, with the flowers and stems, in particular, covered in soft downy hairs. The main variety has purplish coloured petals but it’s possible to get a white form, ‘Alba’ and a red shade, ‘Rubra’ which is the one I have.
In the garden Pulsatillas like lots of sun and well drained soil and make perfect plants for alpine gardens and containers. Once planted they don’t like being disturbed but are fairly undemanding plants otherwise. The best way to propagate them is to sow the seed in the green. I haven’t tried this yet but plan to this year.
Also known as the Pasque Flower because it flowers around the time of Easter it surprised me to discover that they are native wildflowers, albeit scarce, here in Britain. It had been recorded at over 120 sites but can now be found at only 19 and of these 19 it is only found in good numbers at 5 sites. In the wild it grows in dry, chalk or limestone grassland found in the Cotswolds, East Anglia, the Chilterns, Lincolnshire and West Yorkshire. It is recognised as a ‘Priority Species’ under the UK’s Biodiversity Plan and organisations such as Natural England are working with landowners to protect their habitats. It’s main threat is from reduced grazing by sheep of grassland, stronger plants takeover and the Pasque Flower can’t compete.
Pulsatilla is the county flower of Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire which might indicate how much more common it used to be. One of the best places to see them in the wild is Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust’s Barnsley Warren Reserve. A site of Special Scientific Interest, Pasque Flowers are found here, which is the western limit of this species’ range in Europe.
Legend has it that the plants grow on the graves of Viking warriors, with the flowers springing form their blood. They are found on earth works and mounds but this has more to do with this ground being difficult to plough and therefore the soil has remained undisturbed providing the perfect conditions for Pulsatilla vulgaris to grow.
It’s sad that such a beautiful native wildflower is struggling to survive. I posted last autumn about Plantlife’s Wildflower Count Survey that we did last April. It’s not too late to sign up for this year’s survey. We have just had our form through the post and will hopefully get a chance to get out over the Easter weekend. Anyone can join, you don’t have to live in the countryside, you could survey the hedgerow on the way to the allotment. It’s a great way to collect data so that more can be learnt about our native plants and how we can go about protecting them.
To take part in the Wildflower Count Survey visit Plantlife.