Try these woodland perennials with enchanting spring blossoms.


Early flowering woodland plants are the mainstay of the spring garden, providing splashes of colour before more robust sun-loving perennials catapult the garden into summer. Among the daintiest members of these vernal bloomers are corydalis, commonly known as fumitories or fumeworts, which surprisingly belong to the poppy family.

They come from Northern Europe, through the Himalayas and into China. Among the 300 or more-strong clan are a number of valuable low-growing and spreading perennials which provide masses slender bird-shaped blossoms over many months in white, red, pink, purple, yellow and most strikingly in electric blue. They’re useful as the various species and varieties flower in succession from March through to June, with some providing blossom for weeks.  

Their foliage is deeply lobed and dissected, blue-green to dusky purple and bright yellow in some selected forms, providing a vivid contrast to the flowers. Corydalis flexuosa from China has spawned a number of forms, but is apt to go dormant in summer, starting into growth again in autumn. C. elata and its various hybrids with C. solida are more reliably evergreen, and will also continue flowering for longer.

They spread via slender creeping stems which produce tiny bulbils at the joints, such as C. flexuosa or in the case of C. solidafrom a fleshy tuber. Many are easily propagated from fresh seed, and may self-sow if happy, so small plants can be lifted and moved elsewhere or grown on. Carefully divide tubers when dormant or in summer after flowering.

Corydalis prefer damp, but not constantly wet soil with plenty of organic matter in semi-shade or full shade, so are ideal for those overcast part of gardens or areas beneath overhanging shrubs. As you might guess, slugs and snails can be a problem, so take necessary precautions as the plants start to grow in spring.