Sunday, September 8, 2013

Ranunculus asiaticus, Levant Buttercup

I have had this framed silver gelatin photo of Ranunculus for many years. Though I bought it here, it originated from Webster's Photo Gallery of Wellington, New Zealand which was established in 1910, and is still going strong apparently despite changes of ownership over the years. As for the date of this photo it is hard to say, regardless I like it as a reminder of this very, very briefly flowering spring tuberous rooted bulb. 
While the word buttercup is usually associated with water plants, this species originates from dry limestone hills of the eastern Mediterranean to North Africa. I imagine the true species is faced with a short hot spring like we have and has to get the business of being showy, attracting pollinators and setting seed over in a very short space of time.
I planted the shriveled claw shaped 'bulbs' facing downwards about 50 to 75mm deep in autumn and the soil was kept just moist and free of weeds. Some were planted in a large round ceramic pot and others meant for the garden in 10cm plastic maxi pots. Of course the ones in the 10cm pots never made it to the planting out stage, though needless to say both batches are peaking in flower at the moment and looking just fine. Like a lot of bulbs they are used to eking out a living in sometimes inhospitable ground and as long as they get a drink they will still flower well. Ranunculus foliage is lush and parsley like and very attractive, but once the first flower buds appear the leaves shrink back and take a back seat as the flower stems rise up to knee height and the display of brightly coloured flowers begins. The satiny lustrous petals with the central jet black boss in the red and pink varieties or the apple green centre in the golden yellow ones is very appealing. No wonder the variety names include artists such as Picasso and Rembrandt, and, because they have been popular garden flowers for such a longtime it is possible to look back 60 or more years to see the selections which were once sold in the nursery trade.
In the middle of the 20th century it was the "Claremont No 9" variety or 'Huntsman' red, 'Bonnie Lassie' pink, 'Golden Glory' yellow and 'Sunset'  'art tones'. While Leslie Brunning's Australian Home Gardener from 1950 gives the confusing information that there are separate varieties called Turban, French, Persian, Scotch and Asiaticum, mixing common names with species, though his inclusion of a Scotch variety may indicate that the true wild species was once grown. If you visit the online Scottish Rock Garden Club, members still refer to the different colours available in the wild type.  In the 1990's bulb books were suggesting planting the dark maroon and near black flowered Ranunculus with silver foliage plants for a very chic look and perhaps this was a reflection of the revival of interest in the work of garden designer Russell Page who famously mixed black and white tulips in his designs. 
These days it is the compact short stemmed types which make an appearance in Garden Centres at this time of year to be sold as instant  'potted colour'. However for very little effort it is worth planting the bulbs fresh each autumn for a wonderful display of pickable flowers.

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