The round buds of winter aconites (Eranthis hyemalis), still cradled by the leaves, push upwards through the ground before the clear-yellow flowers open.
The flowers are sensitive to warmth. They will remain tightly shut on cold days and only open if the temperature reaches roughly 10C (50F). Then they can be sure that early bees and pollinators are foraging and these plants need to be pollinated because they spread by seed.
Find out how to give your garden extra sparkle in winter.
Where to plant
Plant winter aconites in an open sunny position on a warm, sunny bank, or in a lawn, on a sunny corner of a woodland border or under a deciduous tree.
When to plant
You can either buy raisin-like tubers in autumn or you can buy winter aconites in 'the green' in late spring. The latter are usually listed in gardening magazines (under the small adverts) and sold in hundreds and these are not expensive.
They arrive in leaf and you will need to carefully tease the clumps apart before planting to a depth of two inches.
If you buy either tubers or 'in the green' order them in 50s or 100s. One hundred bulbs from a supplier like Peter Nyssen is roughly half the price of 100 ‘in the green plants’.
How to plant
Sprinkle the winter aconite tubers or lay out the plants randomly to get a natural look and plant to a depth of two inches. Then allow them to self-seed.
How to divide
Leave winter aconites undisturbed as much as possible until the clumps are really congested. If this happens lift the clump and tease it apart just as they are dying down and replant in threes.
Read our guide to dividing perennials.
The best partners for winter aconites are early-flowering, diminutive varieties of crocus in blues and purples. These could include ‘Blue Pearl’, ‘Ladykiller’ (a purple-violet and white), ‘Firefly’ and ‘Tricolor’.
The larger flowering Dutch crocus flower four weeks later than aconites and their size tends to overwhelm them. If growing in grass in full sun it is safe to add some invasive ‘tommies’ - varieties of Crocus tommasinianus. These include ‘Barr’s Purple’, ‘Prince Claus’, ‘Whitewell Purple’ and ‘Ruby Giant’.