Friday, January 8, 2010

January Cheer!

"Every gardener knows that under the cloak of winter lies a miracle ...a seed waiting to sprout, a bulb opening to the light, a bud straining to unfurl. And the anticipation nurtures our dream."
- Barbara Winkler

It’s a new day and a new year! January 1st ushered in the New Year with the gift of an unseasonably warm morning to the garden at 50 degrees F! I loved it! Even the bees flew on New Year’s day…unheard of in our little part of the world. What a lovely morning it was, but by afternoon it turned back into our norm of cold, wet and blustery!

I much prefer the warmth but cold weather is perfect for this hellebore blooming in my garden today. As you can see, last winter its blooms were unfazed by a snowy blanket.

This particular variety is evergreen, with large, long, serrated, leathery leaves. Its flowers appear at the tip of the leafy stems and are chartreuse green, one of my favorite garden colors. The blooms stay on for a good 2 months, even offering the honey bees nectar or pollen on those warmish days when they venture out. When the blooms are mostly finishing, the main stems will begin to droop and fall over. That is when I cut them down to the ground and new growth will begin soon. The plant will regenerate itself to full size again in about 2 months.

I can’t positively identify it beyond this because I’ve lost the tag but I think it is helleborus lividus corsicus (Corsican hellebore). Sorry about that my friends. I have a box where I keep ALL the identification tags of the plants that are current in my garden. It’s the only way to refer back to a plant’s needs should something go wrong or when your friend wants to know what that plant is but your memory fails you. I don’t stick them in the dirt with the plant. I think the garden is not attractive with colorful plastic tags poking up all over the place and the weather will deteriorate them quickly, making them brittle and unreadable. But by all means don’t throw them away! They tell you the basics that you need to know about the plant you are spending your money on. If you don’t follow its instructions you often have no one but yourself to blame if your plant dies.

That’s not so say the tags are infallible, naturally there are exceptions. Over the years I’ve found that in rare cases the information given with the plant is just plain wrong. But you have to realize that these tags are written for a broad spectrum of gardening locations so generally the water needs, hardiness and sun exposure info should be correct. For example, when you buy hellebores the tags and nursery staff will tell you they need shade. When I bought this one I put it in the shade as specified and for a few years it was unhappy. It would stretch tall and flop over onto the lawn. What a pain that was every summer when I had to pick the thing up to mow under it. I was thinking of getting rid of it when I heard this one variety likes more sun than others. So I moved it to part sun. Again for 2 years the same thing happened. It kept reaching for more sun. So I moved it to full sun and it’s been happy ever since, standing up and blooming for me every January. Sun exposure information can be tricky. For instance, the sun’s intensity in southern California is hotter than here in western Washington, so this plant probably should be somewhat shaded in California but can take our full northern sun. All that to say, if a plant is unhappy in your garden it may not be your fault if you followed the requirements given. Try moving it till you find the perfect spot. This has worked for me time and time again.

Back to the subject of hellebores. When you are shopping for them, understand the other flower colors are not necessarily going to be the same variety with the same requirements as that which I have mentioned above. While their leaves may stay green year round, others don’t bloom from the old stems like that green flowering one does. I have a pink one that needs full shade, blooms later and sends its flower buds straight out of the ground. Start checking for emerging buds in February (times may vary at your location and air temps). To make the flowers more visible cut off all the old tattered leaf stems VERY carefully so you don’t cut off any flower buds. While it’s blooming new leaves will begin to come up from the ground too.

I’m ashamed to admit I don’t have the tag to identify this one either, but I think it is Helleborus orientalis (Lenten Rose). I know, I know I’ve committed the gardener’s sin and broken my own rule! SAVE THE TAGS!! I’ve said it to my friends till they’re ready to compost me and now I’ve lost two! And you see how important it is to have them?? I’ve had these plants for more than a decade, probably even before I made up that rule, and if I still had these tags I could share the plant names with you. Happily though the last several years have seen enormous growth in the number of helleborus hybrids available to us and many can flourish in all zones according to Sunset’s Western Garden Book. So I encourage you to run, don’t walk to your favorite independent local nursery in these early months of 2010 to see the blooming helleborus and buy your favorite to bring you some January cheer too!

I’d love to hear your comments, so till I can fix my comment section please click the “post comment’ button again if you get an error message.

In bloom in my garden today: hellebore, daphne caucasica ‘Summer Ice’

Photos courtesy of Pat Chissus


Shari B. said...

Aaack! I had a comment all typed out and I accidentally hit the back key! DER!

What I'd typed was something along the lines of this: this post inspired me to consider making a 'scrapbook' of sorts if/when I ever get my garden or potted plants going. Your idea of keeping the tags made me think about taping them each into a page on a scrapbook so that I can make notes on the page of how they grew, and maybe things I learned to do differently. Stuff like that! (Gosh my first comment sounded better!!) LOL! :)

50 degrees on January 1 -- lucky lady! We finally had two days this week over 50, it was beautiful! Snow's coming back by week's end, but it's ok as long as I get a bit of sunshine here and there to hold me over!

OK, I'm gonna hit "Post Comment" before I accidentally hit the back button again!

Joan said...

I like your scrapbook idea Shari.
Lots of gardeners keep logs or journals too from year to year about their successes and failures. It's a great way to learn.

I hope your snow this time is gone faster! Hang in there. Summer's on its way!