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!

Let The Planting Begin!

February 9, 2015 Rhodie 010

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We had a taste of spring here yesterday and this morning.  We actually hit 70 F yesterday afternoon!  It was the perfect day for a drive out to the country, and so some loved ones and I took off for destinations west after lunch.

Just over the county line, in the eastern edge of Amelia, Clay Hudgins of  Hudgins Landscape and Nursery, Inc., is preparing for his first spring in his new location. We had visited last fall and been impressed with the excellent condition of the plants and friendliness of his staff.

What else to do on the first 70 degree day of the new year, but go wander through a nursery?  Although I was in search of potted Hellebores, Clay interested me in shrubs instead.   Many of his shrubs were on sale, and most of his Espoma products.  So I stocked up on Holly Tone and Rose Tone; and adopted a gorgeous Rhododendron.

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February 9, 2015 Rhodie 001~

Our neighbors have successfully grown Rhododendron, even without fencing out the deer; and so we are going to try this one in a spot where a Camellia failed this autumn.  The poor Camellia had been nibbled by deer multiple times during its short life.  Sadly, most of its roots had also been eaten by the voles.  It was too abused to even take a photo of it.

But I’ve learned a trick or two to protect new shrubs since that Camellia went into the ground in 2011.  Today I planted both the Rhodie, and a potted dwarf  Eastern Redbud tree, Cercis canadensis, which was already growing with Heuchera ‘Caramel,’ spring bulbs, and an Autumn Brilliance fern.

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February 9, 2015 Rhodie 003

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This is a cool and partially shaded area, part of our fern gardens behind the house.  These plants will get afternoon sun, and should grow very happily here.

The first line of defense to protect a shrub’s roots from vole damage is gravel in the planting hole.

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February 9, 2015 Rhodie 004

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I dug this hole about 4″ deeper than needed, and about 6-7″ wider.  You may notice a clam shell stuck to the side of the planting hole in the photo.  That is plugging up the main vole tunnel, which is now back-filled with gravel behind that shell.

Like earthworms, voles dig and tunnel through the soil.  My job is to make that as difficult and hazardous as possible.  In addition to gravel, I like to surround the new shrub with poisonous roots.  There were already a few daffodil bulbs growing in front of the deceased Camellia.  You can see their leaves just poking through the soil in the bottom left corner of the photo, if you look closely.  I’ve added a few more daffodils now, planted near the new Redbud, a few feet behind the Rhodie.

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These roots are beautiful; not potbound at all.  I still scored vertical lines in several places around the rootball with the tip of a knife to stimulate growth and prevent any 'girdling' of the roots .

These roots are beautiful; not pot bound at all. I still scored vertical lines in several places around the root ball with the tip of a knife to stimulate growth and prevent any ‘girdling’ of the roots as they grow .

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I’ll plan to plant more daffodils in this area when they come on the market again in fall.  But, until then, I’ve surrounded the Rhodie with seedling Hellebores, spaced about 12″ apart.  Hellebores are one of the most toxic plants we grow.  Every part, including the roots, is highly poisonous.  Once these roots begin to grow and fill in, they will form a poisonous “curtain” of plant matter around the Rhodie’s roots, protecting the root ball as the shrub establishes.  Just for good measure, I’ve laid a light ‘mulch’ of the old Hellebore leaves we pruned this morning.  They will quickly decompose into the soil, and their toxins will offer this area additional protection.

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From top left: Yucca leaves, Heuchera, 'Caramel," a tiny Redbud tree, emerging bulbs, seedling Hellebores, Hellebore leaves, Rhododendron Purpureum Elegans, daffodil leaves, and a mature Autumn Brilliance fern.

From top left: Yucca leaves, Heuchera, ‘Caramel,” a tiny Redbud tree, emerging bulbs, seedling Hellebores, Hellebore leaves, Rhododendron Purpureum Elegans, daffodil leaves, and a mature Autumn Brilliance fern.

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Japanese Painted Ferns are already established in this area.  Their first fronds will unfurl over the next six weeks.  I’ll add additional ferns, and most likely some Wood Anemones to this planting.  It is mulched in pea gravel and some shells at the moment, to further thwart creatures who might want to dig here.

A little Holly Tone is mixed into the bottom of the planting holes and is also dusted over the mulched ground.  Mushroom compost is mixed with the soil used to fill in around the root balls.  Finally, I watered in all of the plants with a generous wash of Neptune’s Harvest.  It smells so foul that hungry creatures give it wide berth.  Just for good measure, I also sprayed the Heuchera and Rhododendron with deer repellent just before going back inside.

Overkill?  Not at all!  I want these plants to get off to a good and healthy start!  I’ll show you the progress here from time to time.  This gorgeous Rhodie is absolutely covered in buds, which will open in a beautiful shade of lavender later in the spring.   I’m so pleased with this shrub, having seen its beautiful roots and abundant growth, that I’m seriously considering purchasing a few more Rhododendrons from this same lot while they are available, and still on sale.

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February 9, 2015 Rhodie 013

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015

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Hellebore with a bud emerging in another part of the fern garden.

Hellebore with a bud emerging in another part of the fern garden.

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