Cardamine quinquefolia

Louise Sims

This rhizomatous perennial (closely related to our own native cuckooflower) always takes me by surprise when its fresh bright foliage appears in February. The attractive leaves are five lobed and toothed, and they set off to perfection the mass of pinky purple flowers which can appear at any time during March. These are always a hugely welcome sight as most other perennials are still well below ground and the garden is a little low on colour at this time of the year.

It grows happily in part or full shade, damp or dry, and is best in an informal, wild or woodland setting where it mixes brilliantly with Pulmonaria ‘Blue Ensign’, arums and hellebores.

C quinquefolia is certainly a spreader, but a gentle one, and it has the big advantage of being summer dormant so that no sooner have the flowers faded away, than so too does the foliage, leaving opportunities for later perennials that enjoy similar conditions: plants such as hostas, tricyrtis, ferns and epimedium spring to mind.

More, almost, than any other, this pretty little flower marks the end of winter and heralds the arrival of spring.

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