Evolution Of A Container Garden

April 2, 2017

~

It is a rare gardener who doesn’t enjoy designing container gardens.  Whether filling a barrel or a basket, a simple clay pot or a beautiful glazed pot from Asia; we can try out ideas for plant combinations in a perfectly controlled environment.  Whether you are simply filling the pots by your front door, or creating an object of art for the season coming, container gardens give us months of enjoyment.

~

November 27, 2016 soon after planting H. ‘Snow Fever’ along with some Viola starts and Creeping Jenny Vine.

~

Container gardens made in autumn, for enjoyment during winter and early spring, present special challenges and special opportunities.  Finding plants which will grow and look good from December into March can be a challenge.  Ice, snow, and frigid, drying wind present challenges for most plants.

But the ability to spice up a potted arrangement with spring bulbs presents a challenging opportunity for the gardener to plan in four dimensions. We can look forward in time to how the bulbs will grow into their potential, interacting with the other plants in our arrangement, months into the future.

~

November 30, 2016

~

Autumn planted container gardens give me particular pleasure.  Planted in late October or November, once summer’s annuals have grown shabby, these arrangements will grow and enliven our comings and goings for the next six months.

~

Our beautiful geranium in June, which lasted well into fall and past the first few frosts.

~

It was already well into November of 2016 when I finally emptied this large white pot of its geranium.  We enjoyed this particular geranium all summer for its vivid, generous flowers.  After it survived the first frost or two, I moved it to a nursery pot in the garage to hold it over for spring, and re-did this pot which stands permanently on our driveway near the back door.

And I refilled the pot with a beautiful Helleborus cultivar that I spotted for the first time this fall, at a local garden center.  I was intrigued by its variegated leaves, and wanted to watch it grow and bloom close up, in this pot we pass daily.

~

Helleborus argutifolius ‘Snow Fever’ shows intriguing new growth by January 4, 2017.  The Muscari have grown leaves through the moss mulch.

~

It was quite small when we purchased it, but its few leaves promised a beautiful display coming.  This cultivar is a Corsican Hellebore, Helleborus argutifolius, which is a bit more tender than the Helleborus orientalis we more commonly grow.  Corsican Hellebores generally have white, or green tinged flowers.  These were advertised as creamy white, outlined in rosy pink.

~

By late January, we could  see the beginnings of flowers and tender new leaves.

~

When I re-worked this pot in November, I removed most of the Creeping Jenny vine, leaving only a little to grow on through the winter.  Creeping Jenny can take a pot with its extensive root system.  I planted some of the little Viola starts I had on hand to provide a little additional interest while waiting for the Hellebore to bloom.

~

February 15, 2017

~

I had not yet purchased any Grape Hyacinth bulbs, but knew I wanted them in this arrangement, too.  It took me several weeks to finally buy the white Muscari, plant them, and finish the soil surface with moss.

~

February 23, 2017, on a rainy day, the flowers have begun to bloom.  Holly berries fall into the pot and need picking out from time to time.

~

It was already mid-December by the time the potted arrangement was completed.  The Hellebore, ‘Snow Fever,’ was beginning to show some growth.  In a partially sunny spot, warmed by the drive and the nearby garage, this potted arrangement has shelter from the wind on three sides.  Even so, it has weathered inches of snow, night time temperatures into single digits, ice, and wind.

~

By late March, a month later, the Creeping Jenny has grown in and the Muscari have emerged. Grass, embedded in the moss, has grown in, too.

~

I am very happy with how the whole arrangement has come together.  I’ve not only come to love this cultivar of Hellebore, but I’ve also learned that this combination of plants looks great together. ( In retrospect, I almost wish I had planted a white Viola rather than the red.  But the red certainly ‘pops!’ against the other colors!)

~

April 2, 2017

~

I will plan to plant more white  Muscari this fall  around Hellebores out  in the garden.  Moss makes a beautiful ground cover around Hellebores.  And for all of its vigor, Creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia, works well in winter container gardens.

It began growing quite early and has filled out nicely this spring, in time to compliment the flowers.  Its chartreuse leaves work well with the pale Helleborus’s colors and with the Muscari.  Creeping Jenny remains evergreen when planted out in the garden, and forms an attractive ground cover around perennials and shrubs.

When planning your own container gardens, especially ones to enjoy through the winter, remember that foliage is as important, or maybe even more important, than flowers.

~

This H. ‘Snow Fever’ grows elsewhere in the garden, sheltered under tall shrubs. Its new leaves begin almost white, and green up as they grow.

~

The foliage in your arrangement will fill your pot for many weeks longer than the more transient flowers.  So try to include a  plant or two with showy, interesting leaves.  Besides Hellebores; Arum italicum, Ajuga, Lysimachia, Heuchera and evergreen ferns do well in our climate.

It is only early April.  This container garden will continue to grow and change until I reclaim the pot for another geranium.  When I do, everything growing here now will be planted out into the garden.  All are perennials, save the Viola, and will grow for years to come.

~

~

When constructing your own container gardens, follow a few simple tips to get the most from the plants you choose:

  1.  Choose a large enough container for all of the roots to grow.  Bulbs produce large root systems.  If you plant a lot of bulbs, the pot will get very congested unless you begin with a large pot.
  2. Choose plants with similar needs for light, moisture and soil PH. Plan for your plants to grow to different heights for an efficient use of space.  Soften the pot’s edges with a vine or other plant which will spill over the side.  Plan for a succession of interest falling on different plants as the season progresses.
  3. Don’t overstuff the pot.  Magazines and books on container gardens often feature mature plants packed in tightly.  If the pot looks ‘finished’ from day one, your plants aren’t left with much room to grow.  The strong will crowd out the weak, and none will grow to their full potential.  Leave room for growth in your designs.
  4. Begin with a good quality potting mix, and stir in additional fertilizer at planting time.  I often re-use at least some of the potting mix from the previous season.  But I stir in Espoma Plant Tone before adding new plants, finish with fresh potting soil, and generally top dress the finished container with a slow release product like Osmocote.
  5. Mulch the top of your finished planting with gravel, moss, or some other mulch.  It keeps the foliage cleaner in heavy rains and helps conserve moisture.
  6. Boost the plants from time to time with an organic liquid feed from a product like Neptune’s Harvest.  Fish and seaweed based products add important trace minerals and help the soil remain biologically active.
  7. Groom plants regularly to remove spent flowers, brown leaves, and any trash which has blown or fallen into the pot from other nearby plants.  Pull small weeds or grass as they sprout from a moss mulch.  If a plant is struggling or dying, don’t hesitate to pull it out.
  8. Place your pots where you will see them daily.  Enjoy their ever changing beauty as they brighten your days.

    ~

    Woodland Gnome 2017

    ~

Advertisements

A Garden Mystery: The Case of the Vanished Helleborus

Helleborus argutifolius 'Snow Fever' blooming a week ago.

Helleborus argutifolius ‘Snow Fever’  opening its first blooms a week ago, on February 9.

~

Pretty, wasn’t it?  Now it’s vanished…. poof!

This beautiful Helleborus ‘Snow Fever’ grew in a very large pot in our front garden, surrounded with Violas, Ajuga, and some Creeping Jenny.  I planted it there in late autumn to keep the pot interesting through the winter months.  There is a dormant fern, and a few spring bulbs tucked in around its roots.

~

december-25-2016-christmas-foggy-morning-033~

I’ve been photographing the Hellebore’s progress every week or so as its beautiful new leaves and flowers emerged.  Its first flowers opened last week.  It is the sort of interesting plant that I like to visit whenever I’m out in the garden, just to see its progress.

~

January 4, 2017

January 4, 2017

~

That said, a friend and I were touring the front garden on Sunday afternoon, and we wandered over to the pot so she could see this unusual Helleborus up close.  She is just getting started gardening at her new home in our community, and  had come over to receive a gift of Hellebore seedlings to begin her own collection.  I wanted to show her the beauty of this special cultivar with its pale new foliage and creamy flowers.

And what I saw in the pot didn’t register at first.  There were the Violas, the vines, the Ajuga and….  nothing in the center of the pot.  The large speckled centerpiece of the planting has simply vanished.

No soil was disturbed, no tell-tale clawing at the soil spoke of visiting squirrels.  There wasn’t a single dropped leaf or flower petal anywhere around.  We searched the area for some clue and found nothing.

~

Helleborus argutifolius just home and still in its Nursery pot in late November.

Helleborus ‘Snow Fever’  just home and still in its nursery pot in late November.

~

You probably know that Hellebores are poisonous.  Nothing eats them.

In our seven years of growing Hellebores in this garden, I’ve not once seen so much as a leaf munched by a rabbit or deer.  Hellebores are so poisonous that I always wear gloves to handle them.

And yet all that is left of this particularly charming H. ‘Snow Fever’ is its roots, and two tiny bits of red, level with the soil, where its stems were cut at their base.  The whole plant was there on Friday afternoon, and by Sunday morning, it had vanished.

~

Violas left growing undisturbed in the pot where our Helleborus vanished.

Violas left growing undisturbed in the pot where our Helleborus vanished.  A sharp eye might notice fresh compost spread to cover the spot where our missing plant once grew.

~

And so I’m turning to you, my friends and fellow gardeners, for your thoughts on this most annoying mystery.

Have you seen something like this before?  Any ideas on what might have happened to the Hellebore? 

I have high hopes to see new growth emerge from the roots one day soon.  Maybe this Hellebore will prove stubborn and hardy and will amaze us with its prolific growth, to make up for what it has lost.

I’ll keep you posted….

~

This H. 'Snow Fever' grows elsewhere in the garden, sheltered under tall shrubs.

This H. ‘Snow Fever’ grows elsewhere in the garden, sheltered under tall shrubs.

~

Woodland Gnome 2017

~

February 9, 2017

February 9, 2017

Worth the Wait

Helleborus

Helleborus argutifolius ‘Snow Fever”

~

“It is said there are flowers that bloom

only once in a hundred years.

Why should there not be some

that bloom once in a thousand,

in ten thousand years?

Perhaps we never know about them

simply because this “once in a thousand years”

has come today.”

.

Yevgeny Zamyatin

~

february-9-2017-daffodils-010

~

The Helleborus ‘Snow Fever,’ which we planted earlier this winter, have come into bloom.  We’ve been watching their progress daily.  We’ve marveled at the delicate new growth emerging from the center of its lovely white splattered leaves, wondering at the flowers yet to emerge.

Here is the first of the opening blossoms.  Its new leaves, behind the buds, are creamy white with the most delicate edging of  red.  This unusually elegant Helleborus has been worth the wait.

~

february-9-2017-daffodils-011

~

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

Wednesday Vignette: Beginnings

Arum italicum seedlings

Arum italicum seedlings

~

“New month, new intentions,

new goals, new love, new light,

and new beginnings.”

.

April Mae Monterrosa

~

Transplanted...

Transplanted seedling…

~

“Letting there be room for not knowing

is the most important thing of all.

When there’s a big disappointment,

we don’t know if that’s the end of the story.

It may just be the beginning

of a great adventure. Life is like that.

We don’t know anything.

We call something bad; we call it good.

But really we just don’t know.”

.

Pema Chödrön

~

january-4-2016-winter-planting-005

~

“The key to a better life

isn’t always a change of scenery.

Sometimes it simply requires opening your eyes.”

.

Richelle E. Goodrich

~

New growth beginning to unfold on a Helleborus

New growth beginning to unfold on a Helleborus

~

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

~

december-7-2016-birds-064-2

Helleborus argutifolius ‘Snow Fever’

Helleborus argutifolius

Helleborus argutifolius “Snow Fever’ still in its nursery pot.

~

Here is a tasty treat for Helleborus lovers: H. ‘Snow Fever.’ 

Known as a Corsican Lenten Rose, this beauty isn’t as cold hardy as some Lenten Rose varieties.  Its parents are native to the Mediterranean islands of Sardinia and Corsica, and it is rated for USDA zones 6-9.

The Helleborus argutifolius varieties may also be termed Corsican Hellebore or even holly leaf Hellebore.  They are large, bold plants with evergreen leaves which persist year round.  These leaves are thick, with toothed edges; but may grow tattered in severe winter winds and weather.  This beautiful H. ‘Snow Fever’ has variegated foliage with a touch of dark red on its stems and the edges of the leaves.  It is a lovely plant, even right out of the pot, and I was delighted to find it last week at a local garden center.

~

november-30-2016-autumn-garden-006

~

Hellebores have found their way into my gardener’s heart because they not only look good year round, but they give a good long season of bloom when little else is actively growing, let alone blooming in our garden!  We already have flower buds on a few of our Helleborus plants, believe it or not.

~

Helleborus already in bud this autumn in our garden.

Helleborus already in bud this autumn in our garden.

~

Though most come into bloom sometime in February or March here, some bloom right through from late autumn until spring.  Our last Hellebores stop pumping out flowers sometime in late April or May.

Corsican Helleborus is known for its abundant clusters of  green flowers.  But this hybrid promises white flowers, with a shadow of green and lovely pink edges to each petal.  It will grow to around 12″ tall, a bit short for the species, but will expand to a wide clump of around 15″.

~

Mid-March 2015

Mid-March 2015

~

I’ve come to love growing Hellebores in pots surrounded with bulbs and Violas.  Sometimes I’ll tuck in an evergreen vine.  But these pots look good and remain in dynamic growth all through winter.  The plants still look good through the summer months long after the bulbs have died back and the Violas have finished.  Last summer I simply moved my best pot into the shade and planted some Caladium tubers around the Hellebore, and had a nice display through most of the summer.

~

july-18-2016-mugs-015

July 2016

~

Alternatively,  if I want the pot for something else in late spring;  I’ll move a Helleborus out of its pot and into the ground where it can sink its roots into a permanent home.

These are close to ‘care-free’ perennials.  First, deer and rabbits won’t bother them.  Their leaves are not only tough, they are poisonous.  Every part of a Helleborus is poisonous, so they make a nice underground ‘fence’ of roots if you want to protect an area from voles or moles.

~

november-24-2016-thanksgiving-020

~

But Hellebores also prove drought tolerant, tolerate mediocre soil, have few disease issues, need only annual pruning of older leaves, and tend to keep going year after year.  Although common advice dictates they grow best in shade, I’ve had a few keep going strong through the summer in nearly full sun.  That was a pleasant surprise!

The main drawback, for most Helleborus cultivars, is that their leaves aren’t that spectacular.  We grow them for their flowers and as a dependable ground cover plant.  As much as we gardeners love the flowers, pollinators depend on them as an important food source.  These flowers are ready to greet the first of the bees and other insects each year.

~

Hellebores

Hellebores given to us as seedlings by a gardening friend.

~

But just look at this beauty!  What unusual and eye-catching leaves!

My first one went into a favorite white pot which held geraniums all summer.  The geranium held out through the first frost, and so I rewarded it by re-potting it and bringing it into the garage for the winter.  I like spunky, tough plants!

~

november-27-2016-garden-002

~

I’ve not finished dressing this pot yet, because I want to pick up a few Muscari bulbs to sink into the soil around the Helleborus’s roots before I finish it off with either moss or gravel.  At the moment, there is a bit of Creeping Jenny and  a few Viola starts taking root, which will soon begin to fill the pot with flowers.

I bought a second H. ‘Snow Fever’  on Saturday, and have now planted it in the huge pot where C. ‘Tea Cups’ grew all summer in the front garden.  The Colocasia’s roots will overwinter in a smaller pot indoors, waiting for their chance to head back outdoors next April.

I’ll find a permanent spot for both H. ‘Snow Fever’ in the garden in the spring;  but for now, I want to really enjoy them, up close and featured in  pots.

I’ve surrounded the second one with some starts of Ajuga ‘Black Scallop,’ some Creeping Jenny vines, and the Daffodil bulbs I left in the pot  last spring.  The Ajuga will keep growing all winter, give blue flowers in early spring, and end up transplanted into a garden bed in early summer.

~

February 2016

February 2016

~

I expect these two pots to give us a great deal of joy over these next few months.  You’ll probably see lots of photos of these special Hellebores as they grow and eventually bloom.

If you love Hellebores,  or are curious to know more about them, I recommend the excellent and beautifully illustrated article in the December Gardens Illustrated on new Helleborus cultivars.  Gardens Illustrated is an UK magazine, but is absolutely the best source for information on plants and horticulture I’ve found.  It doesn’t matter that it is UK based, as much of the information translates just fine to our East coast USA garden!  I like it even better than Fine Gardening, which also offers solid information and advice on garden design, and is based here in the United States.

~

February 2016 Hellebores grow here with Autumn 'Brilliance' fern, which also remain evergreen through our winters.

February 2016 Hellebores grow here with Autumn ‘Brilliance’ fern, which also remain evergreen through our winters. Some of the Helleborus foliage shows wind and cold burn, and these older leaves should be removed in early spring to make room for new growth. 

~

This is the time of year to shop for Hellebores.  You may not find any blooming, but you will definitely find them available in many garden centers in December.  They are pricey, and named cultivars generally have been grown on in greenhouses for at least a couple of years from tissue culture.  Variegated cultivars, like H. ‘Snow Fever’ may not be easy to find in all parts of the country.  But if you live in Zone 6 or warmer, you might want to try ordering from an online source to give this beautiful plant a try.

To simply get started with Hellebores, though, find a friend or  neighbor who has a patch growing in their garden, and ask whether they might like your help in thinning them.  Hellebores seed their offspring generously, and many gardeners are happy to share seedlings.  You may have to wait a season to see them bloom, but the wait is well worth the reward.

~

Hellebores

~

Woodland Gnome 2016

.

Hidden Jewels: Hellebores

February 24, 2014 snowdrops 027

~

Hellebores begin their grow in the middle of winter, sending up fresh new leaves and flower scapes under cover of their sturdy, evergreen leaves left standing from the previous season.    These thick, protective leaves offer cover from freezing temperatures, snow, ice, and winter winds.

~

January 26 2014 ice 004

Hellebores in late January, finally emerging from several inches of snow.

~

Although they may begin to look a bit ragged by February, Helleborus leaves are still vibrantly green in our garden.  It is only when these long, thick  leaves are finally cut away that the dazzling jewel like buds of the new season’s flowers finally shine.

Within just a few days of removing the cover of old leaves, light reaches the new growth, causing it to lengthen and the buds to open.  New flowers and leaves will soon fill out the display.

~

~

Hellebores are hardy perennials, growing in moist shady spots in zones 5-8.  Native to much of Northern Europe from the British Isles eastwards to Turkey, the original species have been heavily hybridized to produce countless different combinations of form and color.

Although often called “Christmas Rose” and “Lenten Rose” for their season of bloom, the 20 or so species of Helleborus are not related at all to roses.  Rather, their common name refers to the open rosette shape of their bloom when fully open.

~

~

Hellebore blossoms are only fully appreciated when viewed up close.  Most cultivars hold their blossoms facing downwards.  One must come in close and lift each blossom to see its face.

~

February 24, 2014 snowdrops 015

~

Most Helleborus blossoms bloom in shades of white, cream, pink, peach, lilac, burgundy, or dark purple.  Many have “freckles” on their faces.  Some Helleborus flowers are entirely green, including H. odorus and the beautiful H. foetidus.  Others,  may be a shade of green with pink or purple markings.

~

February 24, 2014 snowdrops 014~

Although Hellebores are widely available through mail order nurseries, this is one plant I prefer to buy in person, when it is in bloom.  I want to see the flower and buy a sturdy, well developed plant.

I’ve planted Hellebores in pots during the winter, with Violas and evergreen fern, in full sun areas.  It is important to lift and transplant these Hellebores to mostly shady areas before the middle of May, in our area, so the plant isn’t burned by the summer sun.

~

~

One of the prettiest Hellebores, with variegated foliage, is H. argutifolius  ‘Snow Fever.’  Its new leaves and flower buds emerge tipped in pink.  Its creamy flowers have a cast of light green.  This one has not proven as reliably hardy in a pot as H. orientalis, but it remains worth the effort.

~

Helleborus argutifolius ‘Snow Fever’

~

Hellebores enjoy winter and spring sunshine, but appreciate the leafy canopy of trees during the summer.  They grow well in partial shade under large shrubs or deciduous trees.

If planted under a tree, make sure the plant gets sufficient moisture all summer.  Thirsty tree roots often grow up into plantings and rob the perennials of needed moisture when the beds aren’t kept well watered.

~

~

I lost two beautiful Hellebores last year by transplanting them in late spring, under trees, and not keeping them well watered through the entire season.  I also planted them a little too high.  The crown of the plant should be at, or slightly below ground level, and the area around the roots well mulched.

~

This two year old seedling was transplanted into a fern bed last summer.

This two year old seedling was transplanted into a fern bed last summer.

~

Many of the Hellebores available at nurseries are hybrids, and so the seedlings won’t match the parent plants.  Hellebores do set great quantities of viable seeds, and so you’ll find hundreds of little seedlings coming up nearby.  These can be transplanted in spring, cared for, and grown out to see what flowers will develop.

Don’t expect seedlings to reproduce the  flowers on an expensive hybrid, but do give the plant a chance.  You may be pleasantly surprised with the flowers which do develop.  There are so many seedlings from a mature plant that you have plenty to generously share with gardening friends and to expand your own collection.

~

Helleborus hybrids can be found in many unusual colors.

~

Every part of a Helleborus plant is poisonous, from flower to root.  This means they won’t be nibbled by voles or deer.

Spread the older leaves you cut away on the ground anywhere you are troubled by moles or voles, and the poisonous alkaloids will be transferred to the soil.  It is wise to wear gloves when planting Hellebores, trimming their leaves, or cutting their flowers.

~

~

My first Hellebores were a gift from a dear friend who grows a yard full of them.  We dug dozens of seedlings from her garden one day in early summer, and I brought them home and tucked them into new raised beds I was building.  They took off in the rich compost, quickly filling the bed.

Sadly, where I tucked seedlings into the ground without first building up a new bed of compost, they struggled.  The seedlings planted into a well prepared bed bloomed the following spring.  Those planted in other areas did not.

~

February 24, 2014 snowdrops 022

~

Hellebores tend to be more expensive than some other perennials because they don’t bloom their first year.  When you buy a plant in bloom, it is already several years old.  If transplanting your own seedlings, expect a few years of foliage only before the first flowers appear.

Hellebores form wonderful ground cover in shady areas, and require very little care.  Although they look unremarkable during much of the year, their winter and early spring bloom make them well worth the effort.  By planting several different varieties you can enjoy Helleborus blooms from December through May.

~

February 24, 2014 snowdrops 021~

I’ve noticed that most of the best gardeners in our community grow Hellebores.

Many cultivars of Helleborus, especially H. odoratus, grow well in the conditions our gardens offer.  In fact, they are on the “short list” of flowering perennials which thrive here.

~

February 2017 Helleborus

~

Mix Hellebores with ferns, mosses, Hostas, Epimediums, Brunnera,  and other shade loving perennials.  Once past their bloom, the Hellebores leaves will form a solid backdrop for other plants throughout the summer.

Cut, Hellebores last for a long time in the vase.  One of the few cut flowers we can grow here in Zone 7b during the winter, they work well in arrangements with early daffodils and forced flowering branches of shrubs or fruit trees.

February 24, 2014 snowdrops 018~

Hellebores are another heritage plant which continue year to year with little effort from the gardener.  Trimming their old leaves, keeping them watered, and feeding once or twice each year with a mulch of compost is all they really require if planted in the proper spot in the garden.

They reward this little effort with lovely jewel like flowers when we most need them, during these last few frosty weeks of late winter and earliest spring.

~

~

All photos by Woodland Gnome 2014-2018

~

February 24, 2014 snowdrops 020
~
More about Hellebores on Forest Garden:
The Beauty of Hellebores
Helleborus argutifolius ‘Snow Fever’
Why I Love Those Plants of Ill Repute
Plan Now For Winter Flowers

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 671 other followers

Follow Forest Garden on WordPress.com
Order Classic Caladiums

This Month’s Posts

Topics of Interest