For years I wrestled with Erythroniums. Not physically, but mentally. There seemed to be no pleasing them; they flowered gloriously in their first spring but thereafter they disappeared. Forever.
I could grow E. ‘Pagoda’, with its upturned, golden petals like the eponymous Chinese temple, but it was the other, stunningly beautiful varieties that seemed to hate anything I did to them. Until, that is, I met the late Joan Loraine.
One April an old friend and I arranged to visit her fabled woodland garden, Greencombe, in Porlock, where Exmoor meets the sea, in search of Epimediums. Of those we found a very few, but the wooded slopes were dizzy with Erythroniums: pink, white, lemon-yellow; they danced in the light breeze which rippled through the trees.
It is an acid garden. I immediately jumped to the conclusion that the pH of my own soil might not be suitable for them, but when we spoke, Joan explained how she grew them to perfection; such perfection that some were self-seeding around the mother plant.
Firstly, Joan took advantage of the gentle sloping site by excavating a depression and filling it with a mixture of soil and composted leaf-mould. This meant that each plant had its own supply of moist, but draining, soil. Then in went each precious plant. It flowered, set seed, and then retreated for the summer. It worked; I still have an exquisite plant of E. ‘Winifred Lorraine’. And it is increasing.