Enkianthus-A Shrub to Know and Grow

Enkianthus campanulatus ‘Showy Lanterns’, the red vein enkianthus has always captured my interest with its striking hanging bell-like flowers. In the springtime, this shrub is covered with a profusion of pink-red flowers that cluster thickly along the branches. The  Royal Horticultural Society awarded its Award of Garden Merit to the red vein enkianthus. The cultivar ‘Showy Lanterns’ is my favorite.

‘Showy Lantern’ is a compact, slow-growing selection made some years ago by Ed Mezitt of Weston Nursery in MA. Growing to 5′ tall and 3′ wide, this slow-growing shrub bears heavy clusters of dark pink bell-shaped flowers which give off a soft fragrance in mid-May. Sized for a smaller garden, this shrub rarely has any disease or pest problems and should be more widely planted.

Fall color is shades of orange and gold which can set your garden aglow for weeks.  Enkianthus are deer resistant and prefers a slightly acidic soil, but has proven tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions. This plant rewards the patient gardener with all season interest with beautiful spring flowers and fall interest. Native to Japan, Enkianthus is hardy in zones 5 to 7 and prefers full sun or partial shade.

I call it the ‘ugly duckling’ shrub as it can be pretty homely when you first plant it out, but within a couple of years transforms into a beautiful shrub. Because it can be gangly looking at the nursery, people don’t pick them up. But a deer resistant, shade tolerant small shrub that displays clusters of beautiful flowers deserves a place in everyone’s garden.

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Take Four-Springtime Miniature Gardens

Growing a tiny garden on your desk at work or on your windowsill is the perfect project to start spring. Creating a miniature scene combining small plants, miniature furniture, tools, moss, and colorful pebbles combines crafting with gardening. Shopping at a big box store or local nursery for tiny terrarium plants instead of taking on a big outdoor project that costs a lot of money is my idea of a quick spring project to lift your spirits.

Tiny packets of seed and a trowel are ready to use in the garden

Miniature Garden

A garden designer by trade, I normally design life-size, but also love to design gardens in miniature- especially in the winter when I am housebound. There is something unique about creating a complete space in small scale that is so satisfying.  Garden features that I have only dreamed about having – like a bridge over a dry stream bed, mossy nooks and crannies, and arbors – are so easy to create in miniature and a fraction of the cost.

Nurseries and plant centers are catering to this gardening trend and it isn’t hard to find small scale plants and miniatures, even in the dead of winter.

Using the same container and plants, but changing the accessories

Containers

I think the hardest part of creating mini gardens is finding the appropriate container.  A wide shallow wide container is desirable but hard to find.  That is why I make a lot of my own with hypertufa or Shapecrete.  See my chapter on making shallow heart shaped containers for succulents. If that is too much trouble, then use shallow ceramic or wooden containers with drainage holes. But occasionally I discover a perfect pottery container in my travels and grab it. Bonsai pots are excellent if you can find them.

Pathways always outline the space; I used a sprig of kiwi vine on the right

Planting DIY

  • After choosing the perfect container, fill it up about 2/3 of the way with some good loose potting medium
  • Arrange your plants, usually 3 to 5 of them in an interesting design. Use creeping ones, as well as taller ones like small grasses and different colors to give variety. Make sure you have room for a meandering pathway and small areas to place your accessories.
  • Use naturally miniature plants that are in scale with a tiny garden.  I use ajugas, alternanthera, small grasses, creeping thymes, sedums, sempervivums, mosses, silver falls, trailing rosemary, wire vine, mini liriope, and miniature alpines, like armeria. The plants will eventually outgrow your garden, so you need to refresh and edit the garden periodically. If my thyme or ajuga gets out of hand, I dig it up, separate and use the extras to make a new garden.After planting your selections, I take moistened sheet moss and press it in between the plants to cover the soil. This covering gives you a base to place your stepping stones and other accessories. It also prevents the soil from coming loose and overflowing the container when you water. After creating a pathway, I like to scatter coarse aquarium gravel around the stones to give them definition. As a last flourish, scatter small bits of beach glass or ‘mermaid tears’ to make the path stand out.
  • Here is the fun part! I am always on the lookout on my travels for small pieces to use in my gardens and you can find them in the most unexpected places. Christmas decorations are a surprising source and I find lots of miniature gardening tools and watering cans as ornaments.
  • Don’t worry that the piece will not be the exact scale for your garden –  no one is measuring! Just make sure that you don’t clutter the garden up too much, so use only three or four minis. I love using miniature wheel barrows with a tiny terra cotta pot or a bird house on a stake. Small resin animals, twig arbors, fences, miniature benches or chairs add to the charm. These make a perfect gift for someone who is housebound and cannot garden outdoors.
A resin house is the focal point of this garden

Care

Use a mister to water your garden every 4 to 5 days, and more if the container is in the sun.  Use small trimmers to keep everything pruned to scale. As the plants grow, you will need to transplant them to another container and replace with a new miniature plant.  The gravel or crushed shells will need to be refreshed periodically.  I have been successful with keeping my gardens both indoors and outdoors.  Usually, I place my gardens in partial sun outdoors during the summer and bring them indoors for the winter, keeping it on a windowsill with bright light

Same plants, different accessories

 

 

 

 

Summer Snowflake-An Heirloom Bulb

These bulbs aren’t dog proof, but I find that deer never eat them

Underutilized and unknown to many people, Summer Snowflake, Leucojum aestivum, should be planted in more gardens. Deer resistant, easy to grow, and thriving in shady situations, this bulb deserves more recognition. Resembling giant snowdrops, these bulbs bloom for weeks in late April, and not in the summer like the name indicates. If  you have deer and love bulbs and want to grow more varieties than the daffodil stalwart, this is a great candidate to add to your gardens. Looking great naturalized in the lawn or woodland, I planted mine in my garden under a deciduous tree. Getting the early spring sun that shines through the leafless tree canopy is all the light these heirloom bulbs (from 1594!) need.

The bell like flowers resemble giant snowdrops
Gravetye Giant Leucojum

Often seen at old house sites and historic homes, at one time these bulbs were planted widely. But now I rarely see them. Anything that is deer resistant and thrives in shade is valuable to the homeowner who wants early spring color. Belonging to the same family as daffodils, the foliage is very similar with hollow stems supporting the white nodding bells.

There is one named cultivar called ‘Gravetye Giant’ which is a little bit larger than the species. The flowers are larger and remind me of giant lily of the valleys. Reaching 18-24″ tall, the species is slightly smaller at 12-18″ tall.

Cultivation 

Leucojums are hardy in USDA plant hardiness zones 3 through 9. Choose a location with full sun or partial shade and well-drained soil.  Plant the bulbs in fall under 3 to 4 inches of soil and 6 to 10 inches apart.  That’s it! These bulbs will outlive you and remain in place for many years and spread to fill the space, though never becoming invasive.

Available at Brent and Becky’s Bulbs for about $1 a bulb, put this on your order list for fall planting.

Gold Bleeding Heart-Favorite Shade Plant

‘Gold Heart’ Bleeding Heart is a winner for shade

The old-fashioned Bleeding Heart, Dicentra spectabilis, has been a garden favorite for years. A stalwart of the shade garden, this plant just got better with the addition of golden-colored foliage and peach colored stems instead of the usual green, that lightens up a shady corner of your garden. The long, arching racemes of pink flowers adorn the plant and really do resemble a bleeding heart.  A classic plant that is deer resistant, ‘Gold Heart’ starts blooming in mid-April and lasts for at least a month. Plants often go dormant in midsummer and surrounding plants like ferns and hostas will fill in. Long-lived, reliable, and self sowing, ‘Gold Heart’ is on my top 10 list of shade perennials.

A  genus of perennials native to Asia and North America, the common name derives from the unusual heart shape of the flowers. All prefer evenly moist soil and little or no direct sun. They’re a boon to gardeners with shade and deer browsed areas.

Discovered in England, ‘Goldheart’ combines well with blue-leaved or variegated Hostas, Solomon’s Seal and  Virginia Bluebells. There are other varieties of Bleeding Heart and you should experiment with some of them.

Dicentra spectabliis ‘Alba’

 

Dicentra spectabilis ‘Valentine’ has vibrantly colored dangling hearts

Old fashioned Bleeding Heart, Dicentra spectabilis
Gold Heart shines in the shade, next to Virginia Bluebells
Gold Heart emerging from blue flowering Ajuga
Good Heart blooming alongside daffodils

Backyard Blooms-Top 12 Cut Flowers

I grow an artist’s palette of flowers

One of the main reasons that I grow flowers in my garden is for the fresh cut flowers. Blooms to bring in by the arm load and arrange in buckets and vases, is the reason that I slave hours in the garden.

Buying fresh cuts from a florist or grocery store isn’t the same as bringing in blooms that are decorating my garden with fragrance and color. Regretting removing those blooms from my garden isn’t an issue when I can enjoy it for many more hours up close and personal in the privacy of my home.

Poppies are planted early in my cutting garden
Planting out my cutting garden in the spring

To get the best of both worlds – a beautiful garden along with beautifully arranged vases – I always designate a special area a ‘cutting garden’. Expanding year by year as I discover just another flower that is perfect for cutting, it has encroached on my vegetable garden. Less veggies-more flowers!

Blocks of flowers in a cutting garden; mesh netting supports the stems
I grow so many dahlias, I arrange them in bowls

But what defines a good cut flower?- Simply put: long bloom times, tall sturdy stems, and ample vase life.

Zinnias, Amni majus, and Bells of Ireland
Peegee hydrangea with ‘Henry Eilers’ Rudbeckia, and Chelone

Garden-to-Vase 

Growing specialty cut flowers for me ranges from crowd favorites like peonies and dahlias, to more obscure varieties rarely seen at a local florist, like ‘Love in the Mist’, is both a money saver and a little bit of luck. Starting many of these varieties from seed can be tricky, and some years I have a bumper crop, and other years, I bomb. Gardening is not an exact science and the more I experiment, I find that there is always more to discover.

Planting seedling plugs at Great Dixter, UK

Growing my own source of private bouquets is something I will be doing as long as I have a  garden, as I crave fresh flowers in my house and I don’t want to rely on the florist. My vegetable garden is about 50% flowers now!

Allliums and coneflowers
Growing cutting flowers for drying

Not only do I use my fresh cuts for arranging, I also dry a bunch of them for use in the Fall and Winter. See Dried Flowers for ideas.

My Top Twelve List of Fresh Cuts

  1. Ageratum houstonianum ‘Blue Horizon’ or ‘Dondo Blue’
  2. Larkspur-comes in pink, blue and white and gives a great vertical accent to your arrangements
  3. Poppies-comes in a rainbow of colors and my bees like them; go to Poppy Love
  4. Zinnias-all kinds, but I especially love the cactus varieties
  5. Sunflowers-forget the mammoth ones (too large), but the different colored varieties with branching stems are my favorites like ‘Valentine’
  6. Dahlias-for late season interest, these are perfect! For my post on Dahlias, go to Dahlias – Divas of the Garden
  7. Lilies-Oriental and Asiatic, not daylilies as these only last a day
  8. Love in the Mist- not only beautiful flowers, but beautiful foliage and dried seed heads
  9. Peonies-a flash in the pan and they are gone, but I indulge in them when in season
  10. Tulips-forget these if you have deer; wonderful form and they grow in fantastic shapes in the vase
  11. Bishops Flower(Amni majus)-looks like a Queen Anne’s Lace on steroids
  12. Alliums-long lasting statements that make good focal flowers; go to my post on Alliums-All Season Long.
Alliums are easy to grow and deer resistant
Love in a Mist
Dried seeds heads of Love in a Mist
Bishops flower
Lavender blue of ‘Blue Horizon’ ageratum
Ageratum, Sunflowers, and Dahlias in an arrangement
Cosmos with its ferny foliage is a great cut flower, seen at Falkland Palace, Scotland
Masses of sunflowers ready for cutting, seen at Falkland Palace, Scotland

Out of Season

When summer is over that doesn’t mean I don’t have plant material in the house. Transitioning to colorful berries, leaves, and branches takes me into the holiday season. After that, I bring in evergreens, cones, and branches, until flowers appear again in the spring.

Fall arrangement with berries and branches in a bowl

Placement

Deciding on a place for your cut flowers is a personal decision, but you have to have lots of sun. Growing flowers in my vegetable garden which gets the most amount of sun on my property makes sense for me. Most of my other beds are full of perennials and evergreens, and shrubs, so I usually don’t have room for them in my garden beds. I will plant early bloomers, like poppies, larkspur, and cornflowers in areas that will hold late appearing perennials, like hostas. By the time the hostas are up, the early bloomers are just about done and I can remove them.

Red and white tulips-great for cutting
Rows of flowers in a vegetable garden (not mine!)

Allow enough room to maneuver around the blocks or rows for watering, weeding, and picking. I plant in blocks about 3 feet wide for good access and air flow.

Bouquet of dahlias from my garden
My veggie garden serves also as my cutting garden

Starting some seeds inside and others like Zinnias outside, I start about two dozen varieties each year. Some years I have a bumper crop of something that has done especially well, I just can’t predict what will be blooming in my garden.

Starting seeds under grow lights gets me a jump on the season

For cool season flowers like Larkspur, Bells of Ireland, Poppies, Love in the Mist, and Cornflower, go to Cool Flowers.

Bells of Ireland are a great cut flower

Pink cornflower
It’s quite an event when I bring in these large Celosia heads which I dry

Jeana Phlox-An All-Star Pollinator Performer

 

Phlox ‘Jeana’, photo courtesy of Mt Cuba

A flat of ‘Jeana’ phlox sits in my greenhouse ready to plant as soon as the weather cooperates. Possessing outstanding mildew resistance of shades of lavender-pink flower clusters, this native phlox is a star in my garden and always draws a lot of interest from visitors. Pollinators cluster around the heads constantly, providing a show for weeks in the mid-summer, and giving me lots of photography opportunities. Ranking at the top in ecological and horticultural trials, this plant should be in many more gardens.

Just listen to this rave review from Mt Cuba Center in Delaware who has trial gardens testing for usefulness, beauty, and pollinator visits.

“Phlox paniculata ‘Jeana’ is, without a doubt, the best-performing phlox from the trial. This cultivar was discovered growing along the Harpeth River near Nashville, Tennessee and named after its discoverer, Jeana Prewitt. Although there were many plants of Phlox paniculata in the area, ‘Jeana’ in particular stood out for its exceptionally mildew-free foliage. This trait carries through to the garden and is one of the main reasons ‘Jeana’ performed so well in the trial. This 5′ tall beauty also produces an impressive floral display from mid-July through early September. Interestingly, the individual flowers, or pips, are much smaller than any other garden phlox. However, that does not deter the butterflies that feed on its nectar. In fact, we found ‘Jeana’ attracted more butterflies than any other garden phlox in the entire trial. With a top rank in both horticultural and ecological evaluations, Phlox paniculata ‘Jeana’ is hard to beat.”

The trial gardens at Mt Cuba with ‘Jeana’ Phlox ready to bloom, photo courtesy of Mt Cuba

A taller flower topping out at 4′ to 5′, I love grouping these plants for a big show of flowers plus pollinators. Sometimes staking or some kind of support is necessary, like helpful supporting plants surrounding your clump. One of the only phlox paniculatas that I know tolerating deer browsing, it is a useful landscape plant for the perennial border. The lavender pink shade goes well with many other colors and the plant behaves and doesn’t spread aggressively.

Photo courtesy of Mt Cuba

Facts

Common Name: garden phlox
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Zone: 4 to 8
Height: 2 to 5 feet
Spread: 1.50 to 3.00 feet
Bloom Time: July to September
Bloom Description: Lavender-pink
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Medium
Flower: Showy, Fragrant
Attracts: Hummingbirds, Butterflies
Tolerate: Deer, Clay Soil, Black Walnut
Where to purchase ‘Jeana’ Phlox? At Independent Garden Centers and Nurseries, and more than likely, the plant will have an American Beauties hang tag identifying it as a native plant choice. For local people in Baltimore County, Maryland, go to Valley View Farms. You know you are making a good environmental choice for your garden.
American Beauties Native Plants is a great resource for home gardeners with a Native Plant Library on-line. Native perennials, grasses, vines, trees and shrubs which attract wildlife and pollinators especially are listed in an easy to use resource guide. Listed by common name or botanical name, you can scroll through the many possibilities available for planting. I find the Plant Search, where you can plug in your state and specify what kind of plant that you are looking for, is most useful to me. The web site even has landscape design plans using natives for every area  of the U.S. for sun or shade.
Red Bodied Swallowtail on ‘Jeana’ Phlox

 

Photo courtesy of Mt Cuba
Monarchs flock to ‘Jeana’ Phlox

 

 

Floating Hellebores

Different colors and shapes of Hellbores

If you haven’t seen my posts on growing the ultimate shade plant that is evergreen, deer proof and blooms for 4 months, go to Hellebores-Low Maintenance, Deer Resistant, Evergreen Perennials. So many beautiful varieties, doubles, singles, picotees, and ruffled with colors ranging from ruby red/wine to a wonderful creamy with rosy specks, this perennial deserves a place in everyone’s garden. Long-lived, with the clumps adding girth every year until you have a huge ring of hundreds of rose like blooms, these perennials cost a bit more initially, but will give back in spades for years to come.

Lenten Roses or Hellebores are the plant that keeps giving
One of the benefits of growing Hellebores is that they throw seed and will make seedlings
Floating the blossoms is the best way to display the blooms; If you cut the blooms and arrange them in a vase, they will wilt

Floating Hellebore blossoms is the optimum way to display their wild variations of forms and colors. I find that if I cut the blooms on a stem, they will wilt. I have tried dipping the stems in boiling water and floral preservatives, but nothing helps. So enjoy them where you can see them best…… facing right towards you! For more arrangements using bowl groupings, go to Bowl Arrangements.

 

Lenten Roses

‘Wedding Party’ has beautiful double flowers

Hellebore
One of my honeybees visiting a hellebore
Nearly black Hellebore

10 Annuals That Can Take the Cold

Snapdragons, Dianthus, Violas, Primrose, Alyssum, and tall perennial Foxglove make this an early spring container arrangement

After a long cold winter, gardeners are itching to get some color outside, even as early as St Patrick’s Day. Most hardy annuals tolerate light frosts, but not freezing.  St Patrick’s Day marks the start of my container season. Including edibles such as kale, lettuce, and spinach gives my containers double duty. And the leafy greens are attractive too.

A spring container with edibles, like spinach, kale, and lettuce

I use the following cold hardy annuals:

Pansies/Violas-technically not an annual, but I treat it like one

Calendula-great orange and yellow color

Lobelia-a small flowered blue or white trailer that is a non-stop bloomer. It creates masses of flowers that cascade or trail out of a container

Alyssum-honey-scented white or purple trailer

Dusty Miller-good foliage foil with felted grey leaves

Nemesia-comes in a variety of colors and the scent is fabulous

Ranunculus-multi-petaled flower which loves the cold; looks like a rose

Snapdragons-upright flower used for height, seen in cottage type gardens

Ornamental Cabbage-Yes, this looks like a full grown cabbage!; Great foliage in pinks, greens, and whites

Dianthus-The quintessential cottage flower, pinks are treasured for their blue-green foliage and abundant starry flowers, which are often spicily fragrant. They come in pinks, whites, and reds and are sweetly scented

Dianthus can take lot of cold temps
Canlendula
Different colors of Lobelia in a broken pot

For an excellent chart of frost hardiness of annuals, go to Cold Tolerant Annuals  a publication by the University of Minnesota. If anyone knows cold, people who live in Minnesota do! Some flowers can take ice and snow, like Ornamental Cabbages and Pansies; others can take a light frost and temperatures in the thirties, like Nemesia.

Flowering cabbage will take a snowfall and come back fine

 

A hanging orb of violas, bleeding heart, parsley, red mustard, and kale, seen at Chanticleer
I love this brown-hued Viola

Lasting for 6 to 8 weeks, the containers will have run their course by mid-May, and it will be time to plant for the summer using heat tolerant plants. Most people wait to plant their containers until May in the mid-Atlantic region when the danger of frost is past. But why wait?  You are missing out on all the wonderful cold hardy varieties that will be done in by the coming heat, like Ranunculus and Violas.

An adorable Viola growing with Dinosaur Kale
Ranunculus comes in many colors
An array of Violas at a local nursery

Ranunculus is actually a corm, a small type of bulb, and the flowers look too perfect to be real. Exquisite, rose-like blossoms, they are often seen in wedding bouquets. Silky petals are layered like a rose in bright, paint box colors.

Yellow ranunculus are at the base of this sunflower topiary
Primrose, Alyssum, Snapdragons, Violas, Scabiosa, and Oriental Lilies

Buying my plants from a variety of sources- big box, wholesale nurseries, and independent nurseries with a good selection – I hold my plants in my cold frame. Staying about 10-20 degrees warmer than the surrounding air, it is convenient to stash the plants somewhere and to look at all my color combos before planting. Sometimes, when I place them in my cold frame without any thought for color, a new pairing of texture or color will leap out at me. If you don’t have a cold frame, storing in an unheated garage or shed will work too.

My cold frame full of annuals and Swiss Chard

It is really important to acclimate your annuals to the cold by gradually exposing them to colder temperatures than the warm temps in a greenhouse.

Simple container of Nemesia, African Daisy, Carex, and Phygelius, seen at Chanticleer

Using accessory elements like statues, balls, and twigs, will make the container pop.

Alyssum, pink Scabiosus, Primrose, Dianthus, Heather, Violas, Yellow Twig Dogwood
Violas, Dianthus, Hens and Chicks, and Columbine

Having flowering plants out in March and April is extremely important for the pollinators that are flying in chilly weather and have trouble finding nectar sources. You are providing a vital source of nectar and pollen for these important native bees by planting out early, as well as giving yourself a boost of color therapy after our cold winter.

Parsley is one of my favorite fillers

Trailing white Alyssum makes this container look lush

A new Pansy called Frizzle Sizzle has ruffled edges
Violas Pansies, and pink and orange Nemesia

Perennials

Perennials like Coral Bells, Carex, Bergenia, Hellebores, Scabiosus, Lamium, and Evergreen Ferns, can be used in the early spring container as accents and fillers. The worn out annuals can be pulled out leaving the still performing perennials and newer heat tolerant annuals inserted in their place.

Table planted with early spring annuals and perennials
An early planting of a table with Lamium, Violas, Ferns, Pulmonaria, Polka Dot Plant, and Moss

Beehive Art-Your Apiary is a Work of Art

Architectural rendering of a beehive

Painting hive bodies a boring white was the norm when I started beekeeping 20 years ago. Fast forward to the present and everyone is trying to outdo themselves with wild and beautiful designs decorating the bee yard. Art and beekeeping?…. Great combination of two of my favorite past-times and I can give you some pointers on how to accomplish a beautiful beehive even if you have no artistic abilities. Stencils, spray paint, and stickers can all be used to come up with a design that people will think you spent hours on!

Hive body painted using stencils; photo by Beekeeping Like A Girl

Inspired by the designs seen at Beekeeping Like A Girl and IzzabellaBeez on Etsy, I am now thinking about how I can jazz up my apiary. In the past, I have used stencils as a quick pick-me-up for my hives. Once you paint a base coat, it is so easy to apply stencils and you are done! But I would like to do a full makeover of free-hand painting of my hives.

Beehive Nucs placed close together; the straw is a temporary entrance reducer

If you have lots of hives placed together in a row that look-alike, customizing your beehive makes it easier for your bees to find their proper hive and eliminate ‘drifting’. Drifting bees can get confused if all the hives look-alike and need a special homing designation to get to their particular hive.

Quick stencils place artisitic bees on your hive in a minute

Splash some paint on your hives for quick abstract look, from Beekeeping Like a Girl  

For functionality, start with a neutral base coat and add at least 2 coats to get good  coverage to protect the beehive from the elements to last for years. I troll the paint sections of the big box stores for quarts or gallons that were returned and you can pick up for a fraction of the cost.

I start with neutral shades as the canvas

Everyone paints their beehives to protect them from the elements, but why not make it beautiful and eye-catching?  The bees don’t care, and this is your chance to express yourself. Lasting longer in the heat, sun, and, and bad weather that we can get in the Mid-Atlantic region, paint makes your wooden ware last a whole lot longer.

This beehive looks like a dollhouse, from Beekeeping Like a Girl

Paint the outside surfaces of the beehive and leave the insides where the bee live free of paint.  Use a gloss paint on top of your primer or base coat as it seems to slough off dirt better than a satin or eggshell paint.The color of the primer is not important.  But primer is important to seal and protect the wood, and it enables the final coat of paint adhere better, and helps the surface paint resist moisture and mildew.

This hive certainly stands out to the bees, from Beekeeping Like a Girl

I want my painted beehives to last. And if you don’t want to bother with painting it yourself, just browse IzzabellaBeez and order one of her gorgeous hand painted hives on-line.

Available from the Etsy Shop of IzzabellaBeez
Available from IzzabellaBeez

 

Available from the Etsy Shop of IzzabellaBeez

 

Available from the Etsy Shop of IzzabellaBeez

Hellebores-Deer Resistant, Low Maintenance, Shade Loving Perennial

helleborus

Gardeners and Hellebores

Ok, drumroll here….I think I can say that Hellebores are my favorite perennial plant. A well-kept secret of garden enthusiasts, Hellebores should be more widely known to serious and not so serious gardeners alike; this is a plant that is worth seeking out. What other plant resists deer, neglect, likes shade-even deep shade, is evergreen, arranges beautifully, and has stunning flowers?  Did I mention that it blooms for 3 – 4 months of the year?  That was not a typo- Hellebores bloom for at least 3 months, sometimes longer, starting in mid February for me in the mid-Atlantic region, and soldiering on until at least April or May. Increasingly, I have seen them for sale at Trader Joe’s and other unlikely places, so I think finally people are waking up to the value of this flower. Poisonous, deer turn up their nose at these beautiful plants.

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So, why isn’t this plant in more gardens? Several reasons…First they are pricey.  Retail prices can range from $15 to $30 a piece. Second, when most people are browsing the garden centers in May, the plants have mostly finished their blooming show and people move on to fresher blooming plants. Third, Hellebore flower colors are usually subtle greens, pinks, and whites, and many gardeners want something brighter and flashier. But hybridizers are working on that with increasingly colorful flowers being released every year.

 Double hellebore, not sure of the variety

Double hellebore, not sure of the variety

 

Nearly black Hellebore
Nearly black Hellebore
'Ivory Prince' is a beautiful variety with outward facing creamy flowers
‘Ivory Prince’ is a beautiful variety with outward facing creamy flowers

For bee and nature lovers, this plant is extra important because it is an early nectar source for pollinators. There isn’t much blooming when they are in their glory in the late winter and I am sure to see the flowers filled with bees on a warmer day.

One of my honeybees visiting a hellebore
One of my honeybees visiting a hellebore

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

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Float your blooms in a bowl and they last for a couple of weeks

Another drawback other than their high price, and I warn my clients about this when I include them in a garden design; they take a while to establish. To get a nice size blooming clump, it will take about 5 years if you start with a quart size plant. So, in this day and age of instant gratification, this can be a deal stopper for some people.

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Very few perennial plants can tolerate the winter snow and wind that nature throws at them in January and February, but Hellebores emerge in late February with a welcome spring show. Some of the evergreen foliage might get burned on the edges and get tattered but you can quickly nip off those leaves for fresh to emerge.

'Wedding Party' has beautiful double flowers
‘Wedding Party’ has beautiful double flowers

The most popular varieties are the Oriental hybrid Hellebores (Helleborus x hybridus ) which grow in the USDA zones 6-9.

Lenten Rose

The common name for Hellebores is Lenten Rose, because they bloom around the season of Lent. Hybridizers have latched onto Hellebores and specialized in creating a rainbow of colors, such as yellow, burgundy, spotted, black, pinks, and picotees. And the names!….Honeyhill Joy, Ivory Prince, Amber Gem, Berry Swirl, Cotton Candy, Black Diamond, Golden Lotus, Onyx Odyssey, Rose Quartz, Peppermint Ice, are just the tip of the iceberg. They sound like paint colors on a paint swatch.

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The normally downward facing flowers have been bred to tilt outward instead of tilted to the ground so that you can easily see the flower show. Hybridizers have also turned their attention to the foliage, breeding for variegation, burgundy flushed stems, and silvery sheens. All these efforts must have paid off as they are flooding the nurseries and the prices are top dollar.  I have seen Hellebores for more than $50 a piece.  They are getting as expensive as some hybridized peonies!

This hellebore has variegated foliage
This hellebore has variegated foliage

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Culture

The culture of Hellebores is so easy that if you just plant them in a shady or partly shady spot, you’re done! I have some in sunny locations here in Maryland, but in more southern states, like Florida, plant them in full shade. In particular, Lenten Rose is a valuable player for dry shade, the nemesis of many gardeners. I use them as a ground cover under large trees where deer are prone to browse. For more shady ground cover choices, go to Made for the Shade.

A flock of Hellebores!
A flock of Hellebores!

Hellebores will set seed all around the plant and when the seedlings appear, dig them up and scatter them around. You will have large clumps in no time that last for years and years.

Seedlings surround the mother plant
Seedlings surround the mother plant

As I noted earlier, if you nip the older outer leaves in late winter, so the new stems and leaves can come up in the center.  That is it for maintenance!

A large clump of Hellebores in late February that needs to be trimmed
A large clump of Hellebores in late February that needs to be trimmed
Clump transformed and showing flowers better once trimmed
Same clump transformed and displaying flowers better once trimmed

My advice for buying these beauties is to buy them in bloom so you know what you are getting as the colors can vary widely. Take a nursery shopping trip in late February and early March to get the best pick. For people who live near me in Central Maryland, go to Happy Hollow Nursery off of Padonia Rd in Cockeysville, at 410-252-4026. Tell them TheGardenDiaries sent you!

Hellebores covering a bank

So, gardeners of the world-Are you listening?  Tell all your friends and neighbors about this plant. It should not be a secret any longer.