IT’S ALWAYS NICE to feel ahead of the curve. For probably fifteen years, I have been growing a springtime ephemeral (simply meaning it disappears back underground after its early display) that’s suddenly getting “discovered.” Hylomecon japonicum, a member of the poppy family or Papavaraceae, blooms with other extra-early things like primulas and trilliums, adding its buttercup-like golden flowers in gaudy profusion to the floor of the shade garden.
I got my plant at a sale at the New England Wildflower Society all those years ago. Their specialty is American natives, of course, but they also sell (or used to sell) some select Asian things; Hylomecon is from Japan.
For years I had just the one plant, which a friend who was helping in the garden about six years ago dug up and divided when I was not looking. Coming upon him with the tiny pieces in his hands, I started to shout, and then cry. My precious little plant would not survive such treatment, I feared—and where would I ever find another, since it was not in catalogs? He yelled back, then tucked each of the bits in a hole of its own as if to say, “You’ll see.”
The next spring I had dozens (and now, following his example again and again, I have hundreds). These days you can buy this treasure from time to time by mail, usually from Arrowhead Alpines, for instance. Remember, one yields plenty, if you have a little patience, and then fearlessness (or a fearless friend)—and a sharp knife.