Our neighbors to the east have lived in their house since this neighborhood was young. In that time they've created a mature landscape, centered on a very productive vegetable garden. We've often enjoyed the fruits (and veggies and herbs) of their labors in the 15 years we've lived next door to them. Since they're busy in the summer with the food garden, their ornamental plants are mainly spring ephemerals and we've also been the recipients of a number of their spring treasures.
Some, like Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginiaca) have been passed from hand-to-hand, but many have serendipitously found their way into our garden on their own, including sharp and round-lobed Hepaticas (H. acutiloba and H. nobilis), Dutchman's britches (Dicentra cucullaria) and checkered lily (Fritillaria meleagris). Most of them self-seeded in the moss in the days when I was sitting there pulling out blades of grass, one by one. Thus it was easy to notice a tiny little seedling and move it to a spot where it could grow without fear of being stepped on.
Once I realized that Hepatica flowers were ephemeral but the beautiful leaves were not, I was hooked on this lovely little native. I grouped every miniscule seedling into clumps where they could fill in and create a mound of foliage that remained attractive until it was buried by the snow. Last year, on a mid-summer visit to the Flower Factory in Stoughton, I discovered a stunning new H. acutiloba variety with leaves that were not only larger than the norm, but heavily splashed with silver. I planted one under a 50-year-old Arborvitae where it quickly settled in.
Though it was listed as blooming in a mix of colors, it came up this Spring virtually white. Since it is listed again in the 2010 Flower Factory catalog, I am planning to splurge on half-a-dozen more plants — at $10.25 each (yes, more than twice the price of typical Hepaticas!). I have so much dry shade in my garden that any plant that grows under an Arborvitae gets my vote and my money. This time I will buy them when they are likely to be blooming so I can try for more white flowered plants.
But to be on the safe side, I am ordering a couple of H. acutilobas from Seneca Hill Perennials which sound very similar to the plant I bought last summer. Their on-line catalog describes them as plants "distinguished by their well-mottled leaves, relatively large stature and leaf size, and vigorous growth habit." They note that they hand-pollinate these seedlings to help keep the colors true, but they haven't yet "grown out a crop so don't really know" what will happen when they bloom. You're buying them on that basis, and at $8.99 per plant I am willing to take that chance. Seneca Hill has some wonderful color choices in their Hepatica offerings, but I am really interested in the leaves, because they are what lasts and makes this a plant worth growing.