Fabulous Friday: Something Borrowed, Something New

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Until I’d struggled with this ‘new’ garden for a couple of years, watching my familiar favorite plants disappear from the garden to feed assorted voles, rabbits, squirrels and deer, I’d never given Hellebores more than a passing thought.  They simply weren’t on my radar in those days when I was busy growing roses and Hydrangeas, berries, beans, tomatoes and every Begonia I could find.

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And then a friend offered to dig a few Hellebores from her garden to share with me.  We had been consoling each other, probably over cups of coffee, as we both told our stories of plants loved and lost in this forested community.  Our houses are nearby, and each of us has a ravine and a pond beyond our back yards, favorite haunts of large herds of deer.

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She’s been here a year or so longer than we; long enough to learn a trick or two.  Long enough to learn to treasure her Hellebores.

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Our first patch of Hellebores, given to us by a friend,  as they were in April of 2012. These perennials look good in every season, thrive in dry shade, and bloom for several months in late winter and early spring.

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Her broad front yard is carpeted with beautiful Hellebores.  Through the warmer months, Hellebores cover the ground, especially in shady spots, with a beautiful, textured deep emerald green.  And then sometime between November and January they begin to bloom.  And they keep producing flowers until things heat up again in April or May.

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Helleborus argutifolius ‘Snow Fever’.

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Hellebore flowers come in shades of white, cream, light green, pinks, purples, and reds.  Heavily hybridized, there is a huge variety of size and form available through nurseries and catalogs.

Which is fun for collectors, but almost doesn’t matter anymore once you have a plant or three.  Because Hellebores easily set seed, and those seeds easily germinate.  And a few Hellebores easily becomes an ever widening patch of them, all a bit different since they have hybridized with one another.

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I’m reminded of generosity and friendship every spring as we admire our Hellebores.  Those few early plants did so well for us, some even in full sun, that I dig and re-plant seedlings in more areas of the yard each spring.  Hellebores are just the trick to solve several of the challenges we face.

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Hellebores touched with frost

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Because they are highly poisonous, the local wild things leave Hellebores strictly alone.  This makes them valuable for planting around newly planted trees, shrubs, ferns and perennials that need a bit of protection from hungry voles.  The voles avoid the Hellebore roots and so avoid the tasties you need to protect, as well.

Simply plant a circle of seedlings, spaced every 8″-10″, around the new plant.  Those roots very soon grow into a solid mass of protection, and the Hellebores will thrive in dry shade as the shrubs grow.

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Hellebores and Narcissus protect the roots of this Camellia sasanqua, blooming for several months after the Camellia flowers have faded.

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Deer don’t much like to walk through Hellebores, and certainly never nibble them.  Plant them in a mass along property lines, or disrupt deer runs through the garden with a living barrier of Hellebores.

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Hellebore seedlings bloom for the first time on this slope, where I planted them last spring.  This area gets a lot of erosion and several other plants have failed here.  The daffodils and Hellebores may prove the solution to hold the bank.

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Hellebores also serve as a beautiful ground cover on slopes and other areas where you don’t want grass.  They hold the soil against erosion and suppress weeds.  They can take drought and need very little care, other than removing old and damaged leaves in late winter.

I like to mix Hellebores with ferns and spring bulbs, like daffodils or early summer bloomers like Iris.  They make great companions.

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Seedlings blooming in their first year.

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And finally, I still want a few large pots of Hellebores each winter.  I pick out new cultivars at the nursery, looking for interesting leaves as well as striking flowers.  Maybe one day I’ll just dig a few seedlings for the pots.  But I find the new cultivars interesting enough to seek out special ones with variegated foliage or double flowers.

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I was very inspired by a planting featured in a recent issue of Gardens Illustrated.  A very large round stone planter was filled with the earlier blooming Helleborus niger, the Christmas rose, interplanted with Galanthus and Cyclamen hederifolium and C. coum. The whole confection was white flowers against beautiful green and silver foliage.   It was elegantly simple and absolutely aglow on the dull day it was photographed.

Hellebores make wonderful companion plants for spring bulbs in winter pots, and the whole thing can be transplanted into the garden in April, when you want to re-plant the pot for summer.  You know the arrangement will come back even bigger and better next winter.

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Which brings me to the main reason I’m celebrating our Hellebores on this Fabulous Friday:  they give abundant winter flowers.  Whether cut for a vase, floated in a bowl, or simply admired while walking through the garden; Hellebores defy winter with flowers of vibrant color and delicate beauty.

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We have enough seedling Hellebores appearing each spring that I’m always happy to share with other gardeners.  Especially gardeners making the hard adjustment to gardening in our challenging area, who are just looking for something, anything, they can grow without having to spray it with deer repellents every time it rains.

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Something borrowed, something new… a gardener’s happiness always grows when friends share their botanical treasures, and when success finally blooms from challenge.

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Woodland Gnome 2019
Fabulous Friday:
Happiness is Contagious; Let’s Infect One Another!
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Green Thumb Tip #23: From Small Beginnings

Begonia, growing inside and waiting for a larger pot.

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Spring invites us to treasure the small. 

Autumn frost and winter storms long since claimed late summer’s towering goldenrods and bushy pineapple sages.  The Cannas and gingers and huge elephant ear leaves were cut down months ago, and live on only in memory and photos and dormant tubers resting underground.

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After several months of bare ground, woody stems and largely open space, the smallest bits of new growth excite me with their promise of a new growing season awakening.

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Iris reticulata ‘Rhapsody’

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It is easiest to start again small.  Small flowers from very small bulbs, like grape sized Iris reticulata and I. histrioides.   Small roots on small cuttings, carefully planted into small pots to ‘grow-on’; and small starts in small pots that will move up into hanging baskets and potted arrangements once the weather warms.

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Cut pussy willow stems root easily in water.  I’ve cut the bottoms off of rooted stems to plant, and returned the larger stems to the vase.  From these small sticks, large shrubs may eventually grow.

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From small beginnings, beautiful plants will grow.  I tend to order bulbs and corms, tubers and rhizomes, seeds and roots, then plant them myself to watch them grow.  A box came in late February filled with a treasure trove of Iris roots.  They may not look very promising, straight out of the package, but the potential for beautiful, healthy growth is there if you handle them properly.

I ‘heeled them in’ in a bin of rich, moist potting soil in the basement, while their roots re-hydrated.  After several days, once the plants had re-awakened and were ready to grow,  I moved each plant into a larger pot, filled with amended potting soil to grow on for the next month or two.

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These are Iris siberica and Iris chrysographes.  They want moist soil with excellent drainage and benefit from some extra perlite and some Plant Tone mixed into good potting mix.

Hardy perennials, they want as much sun as they can have on these early spring days.  Potting them first, before planting them into the garden, gives them a chance to grow and develop a great root system in comfort and safety, away from curious squirrels and hungry voles.  Their leaves are tiny now, but will stretch to a couple of feet high by summer.

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I’ve been busy at my basement planting bench this week, potting up rooted cuttings and a few bags of Zantedeschia bulbs a gardening friend gifted to me last fall .  Next week, I’ll start our saved Caladium tubers.

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Oxalis grow patiently in the garage, among our summer pots, waiting their turn to grow out in the sunshine.  Start Oxalis from tubers any time of year.

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I’m waiting a little later in March to start them this year, mindful of how cold our spring was last year.  The Caladiums wanted space outside in the sun long before it was warm enough to plant them out.  Better to start slowly, in small steps towards summer’s leafy bounty.

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As spring creeps, hesitantly, into the garden, hard lessons learned in years past make me a little hesitant, too.  Last night dipped into the mid-20s, here.  The sun was out this afternoon when I walked the garden, noticing not only the new growth but also the work still needed to properly welcome spring.

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This special Hellebore disappears in the shade. It is only when I seek it out, and turn up its face, that I can appreciate its beauty.

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Perhaps it’s a good thing that I’ve waited this long to rake up winter-blown leaves and finish the pruning.  Once woodies begin to bud and bloom, cold nights like these can ruin tender petals and leaves.  I’ve learned its wise to not rush the season, but to wait and see what more winter weather may come our way.

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The earliest of our daffodils have begun to open.  They are tough, and bounce back from cold nights and late snow.

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Rather than rushing, this March I’m going to savor what comes into leaf or bloom each day.  Each small flower, every tiny bud swelling on a branch, every bit of emerging perennial pushing up through the muddy earth is beautiful.

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Acanthus ‘Whitewater’ is ready to grow.

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Perhaps it is better to savor spring slowly; to re-discover the treasures of awakening plant life  in miniature.

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The smallest parsley seed holds wonder and promises magic.  From small beginnings, beautiful gardens will surely grow.

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Begonia starts, waiting….

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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“Rejoice in small things

and they will continue to grow”
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Slaven Vujic

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“This is the only advice I offer you.

Pick the small thing, and carry it on.

Let it change your life.” .

Anna White

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“First achieve small things

and you will achieve great things ultimately…

and no one will forget.”
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Bidemi Mark-Mordi

Green Thumb Tip # 22: Do the Math

Green Thumb Tip # 21: The Mid-Summer Snack 

 

 

 

Sunday Dinner: Spirit

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“Walk with the dreamers, the believers, the courageous,
the cheerful, the planners, the doers,
the successful people with their heads in the clouds
and their feet on the ground.
Let their spirit ignite a fire within you
to leave this world better
than when you found it…”
.
Wilferd Peterson

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“Human spirit is the ability to face
the uncertainty of the future with curiosity and optimism.
It is the belief that problems can be solved,
differences resolved. It is a type of confidence.
And it is fragile.
It can be blackened by fear, and superstition.”
.
Bernard Beckett

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“My religion consists of a humble admiration
of the illimitable superior spirit
who reveals himself in the slight details
we are able to perceive
with our frail and feeble mind.”
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Albert Einstein

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“It does not matter how long you are spending on the earth,
how much money you have gathered
or how much attention you have received.
It is the amount of positive vibration
you have radiated in life that matters,”
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Amit Ray

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“Age has no reality except in the physical world.
The essence of a human being is resistant to the passage of time.
Our inner lives are eternal,
which is to say that our spirits remain
as youthful and vigorous as when we were in full bloom.
Think of love as a state of grace,
not the means to anything,
but the alpha and omega.
An end in itself.”
.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez

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“Great spirits have always encountered
violent opposition from mediocre minds.”
.
Albert Einstein

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“The first peace, which is the most important,
is that which comes within the souls of people
when they realize their relationship,
their oneness with the universe and all its powers,
and when they realize at the center of the universe
dwells the Great Spirit,
and that its center is really everywhere,
it is within each of us.”
.
Black Elk

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019

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“Sometimes that
which we fear
strengthens our
spirit and gives
us a splash
of hope.”
.
Harley King

Blossom XLVI: Snowdrops and Iris

Iris histrioides ‘George’ is blooming today, the first Iris of spring.

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“A garden to walk in and immensity to dream in-
-what more could he ask?
A few flowers at his feet
and above him the stars.”
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Victor Hugo

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Galanthus elwesii

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“Nobody sees a flower – really –
it is so small it takes time
– we haven’t time –
and to see takes time,
like to have a friend takes time.”

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Georgia O’Keeffe

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“If you want love to blossom in your heart,
just sit in the garden,
and watch the flowers grow.”
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Anthony T. Hincks

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“I must have flowers, always, and always.”
.
Claude Monet

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Galanthus ‘Sam Arnott’ with Helleborus

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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All the flowers of all the tomorrows
are in the seeds of today”
.
Robin Craig Clark

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“Love speaks in flowers.
Truth requires thorns.”
.
Leigh Bardugo

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Mahonia aquifolium

 

 

Blossom XXXV: In the Forest

 

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“Having a place means that you know what a place means…
what it means in a storied sense of myth, character and presence
but also in an ecological sense…
Integrating native consciousness with mythic consciousness”
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Gary Snyder

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Magnolia stellata

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“A forest ecology is a delicate one.
If the forest perishes, its fauna may go with it.
The Athshean word for world
is also the word for forest.”
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Ursula K. Le Guin

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“For the forest, the shared purpose is life itself, existence;
everything extraneous stripped away by its necessity.
Perhaps the goal of the spiritual life
is to strip away everything frivolous as well,
to pare it all back to the necessity of connection with the other.
If we worship in the sincere presence of that power
that takes away our forever-unmet need of things superfluous,
we enter the real ecology of the meeting,
where all is web.”
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James W. Hood

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“The most effective way to save
the threatened and decimated natural world
is to cause people to fall in love with it again,
with its beauty and its reality.”
.
Peter Scott

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Helleborus orientalis

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

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Sunday Dinner: Early Gold

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“I did not know that mankind were suffering for want of gold.
I have seen a little of it.
I know that it is very malleable,
but not so malleable as wit.
A grain of gold will gild a great surface,
but not so much as a grain of wisdom.”
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Henry David Thoreau
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“Hidden in the glorious wildness like unmined gold.”
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John Muir
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“Everyone can get the gold of the Sun.
(Tout le monde cueille – L’or du soleil)”
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Charles de Leusse
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“Lords of blue and Lords of gold,
Lords of wind and waters wild,
Lords of time that’s growing old,
When will come the season mild?
When will come blue Madoc’s child?”
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Madeleine L’Engle
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“This grand show is eternal.
It is always sunrise somewhere;
the dew is never all dried at once;
a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising.
Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset,
eternal dawn and gloaming,
on sea and continents and islands,
each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.”
.
John Muir
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018
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“It is spring again.
The earth is like a child that knows poems by heart.”
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Rainer Maria Rilke
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Imperfect

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“I always find beauty in things that are odd and imperfect-

-they are much more interesting.”
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Marc Jacobs

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For all we might celebrate spring, in reality it often appears rather ragged.  Especially when the weather is a bit off, as it has been this year, there are scars here and there where we might hope for more beauty and less brown…

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Helleborus ‘Snow Fever’ now fully in bloom

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We have such hopes for spring.   The ‘catalog perfect’ images of bud and flower live in our imaginations through the long months of winter.  We watch for those first signs of color to break the white/grey/brown/ green monotony a new year brings.

But stems fall over in the wind, dropping daffodil flowers to the ground.  Frost bites, brown leaves lodge in unwelcome spots, and even winter bugs gnaw through leaf and petal.

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It’s the transition which remains a bit rough around the edges.  The garden beds sprouted some lively weeds, perhaps.  There are newly fallen leaves to rake.  A few dead stems remain in beds and pots from last year’s growth.  There is so much still to tidy up when one takes a good look around in mid-March!

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Ajuga with just emerging Muscari

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And there’s the mud.  Perhaps your garden is perfectly mulched or paved.  Ours is not…  and perennials and ferns have begun to re-appear from the wet earth.  The photos aren’t so picture perfect as perhaps they’ll be a few weeks on.

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A newly emerged Japanese fern unfurls beside HelleboresIt may be Athyrium niponicum ‘Burgundy Lace.’

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We visited a garden Friday, and felt a bit relieved to find the same flaws there we find at home:  Toppled, frost kissed daffodils; spent perennials; broken twigs on shrubs; and copious blooming weeds feeding deliriously happy bees.  Somehow, the imperfections added charm.

We were just so very happy to be there, and to feel the sun through our coats, and to count the reassurances of spring’s victory over another winter.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“The question isn’t whether the world is perfect.

The real question to consider is:

If it were, would you still be in it?”

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Eric Micha’el Leventhal

To Be One Drop of Water….

february-23-2017-daffodils-003

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But water always goes where it wants to go,

and nothing in the end can stand against it.

Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone.

Remember that, my child. Remember

you are half water. If you can’t go through an obstacle,

go around it.     Water does.”

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Margaret Atwood

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february-23-2017-daffodils-006

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“Wisdom cannot be imparted.

Wisdom that a wise man attempts to impart

always sounds like foolishness to someone else …

Knowledge can be communicated,

but not wisdom. One can find it, live it,

do wonders through it,

but one cannot communicate and teach it.”

.

Hermann Hesse

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february-23-2017-daffodils-008

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“One kernel is felt in a hogshead;

one drop of water helps to swell the ocean;

a spark of fire helps to give light to the world.

None are too small, too feeble,

too poor to be of service.

Think of this and act.”

.

Hannah More

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february-23-2017-daffodils-021

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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Sunday Dinner: Golden

Edgeworthia chrysantha

Edgeworthia chrysantha

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“I did not know that mankind were suffering

for want of gold. I have seen a little of it.

I know that it is very malleable,

but not so malleable as wit.

A grain of gold will gild a great surface,

but not so much as a grain of wisdom.”

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Henry David Thoreau

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feb-2-2017-new-growth-023

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“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.”

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J.R.R. Tolkien

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Helleborus

Helleborus orientalis

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“But Nature granted to gold and silver

no function with which we cannot easily dispense.

Human folly has made them precious

because they are rare.

In contrast, Nature, like a most indulgent mother,

has placed her best gifts out in the open,

like air, water and the earth itself;

vain and unprofitable things

she has hidden away in remote places.”

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Thomas More

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Mahonia aquifolium

Mahonia aquifolium

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“Ô, Sunlight!

The most precious gold to be found on Earth.”


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Roman Payne

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feb-2-2017-new-growth-026

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“Very soon nations will understand

that in reality water is the most expensive

natural resource for their survivals.

Not Middle East oil neither African gold.”

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M.F. Moonzajer

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january-24-2017-jamestown-031

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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january-24-2017-jamestown-018

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“Times of adversity are golden moments.”

.

Lailah Akita

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Magnolia stellata buds

Magnolia stellata buds

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Hidden Jewels: Hellebores

February 24, 2014 snowdrops 027

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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.

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January 26 2014 ice 004

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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February 24, 2014 snowdrops 015

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Helleborus argutifolius ‘Snow Fever’

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Helleborus hybrids can be found in many unusual colors.

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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.

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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.

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February 24, 2014 snowdrops 022

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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.

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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.

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February 2017 Helleborus

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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.

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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.

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All photos by Woodland Gnome 2014-2018

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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

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