Dodecatheon: Shooting Star guaranteed to brighten up shaded areas in your garden

There’s something quite reassuring about typical spring weather; sunshine, showers, and cold winds. The season this year seems to have started a little early, but this cooler weather is holding many plants back which means spring will last a little longer than last year and that we should be in for a decent summer instead of a monsoon.

Visiting gardens at this time of the year is especially wonderful as there’s a noticeable difference in the growth of different plants. What’s good about this cooler weather and the odd splash of rain is that plants are holding their flowers longer and extending their periods of interest. For example, our daffodil display is still going strong after a good eight weeks of flowering.

One of the features we’re eagerly waiting to see flowering is the Crab Apple Arbor, and having checked last year’s records, it looks like it’ll flower at exactly the same time – the end of April. So perhaps this season is not quite as strange as we first thought, however these late frosts are no welcome visitor. Luckily, most of our spring flowerers are pretty frost resistant so the displays are looking good and will last much longer yet.

Malus Arbor in flower in the Kitchen Garden at Aberglasney
Malus Arbor in the Kitchen Garden

Dodecatheon, AKA the Shooting Star

A plant that’s really caught my eye for all sorts of reasons is the Shooting Star, or Dodecatheon – a relative of the Primula. They’re native to North America and like cool, moist conditions which makes them ideal for our UK gardens. There are many types and colours to choose from ranging from purple to pink to white. Another great advantage is that they’re summer dormant, which may seem strange, but they’re much earlier flowering than their Primula relatives. This makes them especially useful as something else can be enjoyed later in the season in the same spot.

Close up shot of Dodecatheon media 'Alba's white flowers
Dodecatheon media ‘Alba’

At Aberglasney, the two types we grow have flourished brilliantly in the last two winters and are currently in flower. They’re shade tolerant and have bright flowers so they’re really useful to use to brighten up any dark corners you’ve got. That said, at Kew Gardens they grow them in full sun next to a pond in marginal conditions and they still do really well there. They’re very hardy and are used to cold winters in the wild, so British gardens are no problem for them. They also mix very well with other small perennials and are particularly great for shady rock gardens. A very versatile plant indeed!

They’re fairly pest and disease free in the ground, although slugs can be a bit of a problem for them. In pots, vine weevil can be an issue so getting them into the ground quickly is very important.

Bright pink Dicentra spectabilis flowers at Aberglasney Gardens
Dicentra spectabilis
Varieties of note

Dodecatheon meadia f. album is another wonderful plant worth mentioning – it’s received the award of garden merit from the Royal Horticultural Society and is fairly easy to buy, plant, and care for.

D. pulchellum also has the award of garden merit and there’s a variety of cultivars available.

Dodecatheon media 'Album' in flower at Aberglasney Gardens
Dodecatheon media ‘Album’

Sourcing, planting, and care

The best places to grow them are shaded or lightly shaded spots with moist ground in the spring. They don’t mind drying out in the summer which is a great advantage as it saves watering. They combine well with other early flowering woodland plants like Erythronium, Bleeding Hearts, and wood anemone. They’re relatively easy to get your hands on – most garden centres supply them – but the more choice varieties will need to be sourced from specialist nurseries. RHS plant finder is a great place to start your search. If you’re hoping to grow wild types not cultivars, then my advice is to try them from seed.

Yellow star shaped flowers of Erythronium 'Pagoda' amongst Bluebells in Pigeon Wood at Aberglasney Gardens
Erythronium ‘Pagoda’ and Bluebells in Pigeon

Tips for the Week:

  • Keep an eye on the weeds despite the cold weather they are going strong
  • Dead head Bulbs
  • Pinch out tender perennials and annuals to make bushier plants
  • Plant aquatics
  • Lift and divide Primula and polyanthus
  • Sow seed for short crops of baby salad leaves or even radish in pots
  • Keep an eye out for aphids and white fly (hardening off plants really helps hold them back)
  • Prepare pea canes and bean poles

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