Meet Beth Evans....

Corydalis is the gift that keeps on giving... and giving, Charlie Wilkins reports

Pale green foliage and delicate, pink-spurred flowers only a few inches tall are the hallmarks of Corydalis Beth Evans, a woodlander that loves Irish weather conditions and the kind of soil that remains moist even in the height of summer.

Fragile-looking plants sometimes surprise by turning up year after year with little or no help from me! Garden treasures are like that; they come and go, sometimes in places I least expect. Over time, many ‘buried treasures’ have come to me from like-minded friends, some long gone, but never forgotten. But then we all pass on, our gardens change, many disappearing or disintegrating in just a few seasons. That is of little importance. What matters is the continuing cycle of sharing and learning about plants, and perhaps a little bit of us will come to mind when plants given as gifts, suddenly re-emerge in someone else’s early spring garden.

Three weeks ago, a plant with tufts of ferny pale green foliage and delicate, pink-spurred flowers, only a few inches tall, emerged in a rather neglected spot in the back garden. Sourced years ago, the plant had once again decided to grace a shady spot which smells decidedly of decaying leaves, rotting timber, peat and pine-needles. I recognised it as Corydalis solida ‘Beth Evans’, a six-inch high slightly spreading beauty which can at times seed among other shade-loving woodlanders. Apart from those distinctive pink-spurred blooms and attractive ferny foliage, it is one of those accommodating plants that die back quickly once its time in the spotlight is over, without leaving messy foliage.

There are a couple of hundred species of Corydalis, many of which come from China and Tibet, but solida is mostly found in the mountainous regions of Romania. Being tuberous (bulb-like), it needs good drainage whilst enjoying ample moisture right throughout the year. ‘Beth Evans’ behaves perfectly under such conditions but I should warn that her morals are fairly loose and as such many of her offspring are, to say the least, variable. This becomes evident when seedlings are allowed to develop following their lifting and potting on (****???). As a result, there are wishy-washy impostors masquerading under her name and that of ‘George Baker’ (which shows more of a red colouring than pink).

A strong plant will double up yearly given the sharp drainage mentioned, along with some dappled shade and summer moisture. It dislikes intensely any soil which allows it to bake in hot sun. Mark Beth’s position with a proper label or apply a mulch of ornamental gravel over its crown as it dies down in April. Divide in late summer or early autumn.

Woodland plants like Beth enjoy their season in bloom until the overhead canopy of tree begins to fill with new leaves. Wisely, they then go to sleep, so try to emulate this by planting and partnering with the likes of Hostas which break into leaf just as the Corydalis vanish. They will also grow well with early flowers — those that give the impression of flowering against the odds; Hellebores, Iris reticulate and trembling snowdrops. If you secretly crave a small, early garden planting but never quite get round to it, then try sourcing a few Corydalis and be pleasantly satisfied each and every spring. You will most definitely come across these at the plant fair today at Belfield House, Shinrone, Birr, Co Offaly or the forthcoming plant fair at Fota Arboretum in April, details of which will appear on this page as the date approaches.

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