The Helleborus Festivalis starts at Detroit Garden Works at 9am tomorrow-sharp. What has taken months to put together is just about ready for the curtain to rise. Rob has done his usual incredible job, sourcing interesting hellebore cultivars of size and in bloom for our gardening clientele. The resident greenhouse frog approves of our case of baby tears. All of us feel, given his appearance, that our festival will be a good one. We had David and Mary Moore in today, owners of Stone Cottage Gardens in Gladwin Michigan. We had a young man in the area on a business trip choosing hellebores for his gardener girlfriend. He made this older gardener happy. Young gardeners, older gardeners-I welcome all of them. As for avid collectors of hellebores, we will ship when the weather moderates, to Rochester Minnesota, Cleveland, Ohio, and Flint Michigan. I like this.
We have lots of companion plants to the hellebores. Honeysuckle boxwood. Euonymus and myrtle topiaries. Silver pilea. baby tears. Hyacinths throwing bloom stalks. Every plant Rob chose is a celebration of the spring. A celebration of green. This first day of spring, we are ready for the chance to garden again. And ready for those other gardeners that grace our doors. Conversation about the garden over a boatload of well grown hellebores-a pleasure for everyone.
My garden at home still has lots of snow. But I can see the signs of spring. I hear the birds in the morning. The evergreens in my garden are emerald green, not that black shade of winter green. I put away my winter coat-I was so tired of it. We had sun today. The ice is melting. The hellebores in my garden are still under 3 feet of snow. Not my first choice of a garden situation. In the greenhouse at Detroit Garden Works, there is a different situation. Spring on our schedule. Though we know we have little influence over the state of the garden, we can create a spring of our own.
It was pure serendipity, deciding to do a March festival especially in honor of the hellebore. Both Rob and I are big fans of this particular perennial. The flowers of cultivars of Helleborus Orientalis – the Lenten Rose – are showstopping. The plants are vigorous, meaning they show up every spring without any handholding. The petals cure and hold on for 6 weeks or better. They seed generously. The foliage is almost evergreen. What’s not to love? An event given over to the spring flowering hellebores made us plant lots of spring flowering containers. This box of cyclamen, grape hyacinths and white bellis is a sure sign of what is to come. Spring-what could possibly be better?
We had no idea the winter would go on so long. As in, we still have winter here. Our spring hellebore celebration has a special meaning we never anticipated. Though nature has been amazingly uncooperative in making a change of seasons, our idea is to bring a celebration of spring of our own to bear. Gardeners make the garden. We hear their voices. If you are in our area, pay us a visit. We promise you will not be disappointed. Hellebores make great container plants that can tolerate being house bound until the garden is ready to be worked.
Our small greenhouse is stuffed with decent numbers of 28 cultivars of helleborus orientalis. Rob added pots of double primroses to the mix. These prikmroses are hardy to 30 below zero. Given our past winter, that root hardiness rating may be appealing. We have pots of primula obconica. There is more-auricula primroses just coming in to bloom.. Honeysuckle boxwood on standard. Bellis in bloom. Hyacinths and daffodils in pots. A celebration of spring in spite of a winter that will not let go.
How spring starved we all are makes all of Rob’s choices that much more to treasure. I have dirt and moss stains on my hands-how great is that? I have been planting spring pots. What a relief-what a treasure.
I have only been growing helleborus orientalis in my garden for 10 years or so. Why I was so late adding them to me garden is a mystery. Perhaps they were done blooming by the time I started haunting nurseries for plants. I may have missed them. Perhaps the time it took a hellebore to grow into a decent sized blooming plant was too long to make commercial production widespread. Whatever the reason, I am a fan now. They are sturdy plants with thick leather like foliage. Many of them are hardy in zone 4, which means very hardy. They thrive in light to medium shade, and like alkaline soil-perfect for my yard. In a mild winter, the foliage is evergreen. The color of the petals eventually fade, but they hold onto the stalk for a long time after the flower is spent. In June my plants will look like they are covered with green flowers. My plants are a strain grown from seed called Royal Heritage mix. This mix has been around for a fairly long time, and produces somewhat muted flowers from dark purple to pink, white and green.
Hellebores increase in size slowly, so the prices for good size plants can be considerable. The flowers emerge on leafless stalks in early spring-late March or early April in my yard. The new season’s leaves come from the ground after the flowering cycle is over. They are long lived, and make dense clumps some 18 inches tall or so. They are willing seeders, should you have the mind to grow them on. The species helleborus orientalis features nodding flowers, meaning they face down. You would have to get down on the ground to look up into their faces, or cut the flowers and float them in a bowl.
One can now find varieties with yellow flowers-shocking, this development. The first yellow hellebore I ever saw in person-I could not take my eyes off of it. This development was only the beginning. Breeders in Japan, England, Canada and the US (and no doubt in many other countries) are breeding plants with double flowers. Spots. picotee forms. unusual colors. Helleborus Black Oddyssey is just that-an inky black. Helleborus Ivory Price is a strong grower, and features flowers that face up. Michigan hybridizer Chris Hansen is responsible for breeding a breathtakingly beautiful group of hellebores known as “Winter Thrillers”. Improved flower color, flower size, plant vigor, and foliage are the trademark of these plants. He has been breeding hellebores for over 15 years; his newer introductions are stunning. There is a wealth of information about hellebores on line now. If you are interested, make a cup of coffee, and explore.
I have never been so much a fan of double flowers. The singles just appeal to me more. This is a preference that is being challenged by the new varieties of double hellebores. A flower such as this is very hard to pass by. A fan of double bloodroot might well be taken with this hellebore. Many of the newer named hellebores are available via the technology of tissue culture. Helleborus orientalis hybrids of old were all seed strains. No technology existed to exactly reproduce a particular plant. Not that I do not treasure seed strains of hellebores. There is always the chance of once in a lifetime spectacular plant. No one discusses the beauty of seed strains better than Carolyn from Carolyn’s Shade Garden.
A love for seed strains of hellebores implies a gardener that can successfully bring on seedlings or grow successfully from seed (I am thinking Joseph Tychonievich who grows for Arrowhead Alpines in Michigan)-or that gardener who is intrigued by the prospect of a seedling that is yet to flower. Not your thing? Lots of hellebores are available true to name-meaning they are being reproduced by tissue culture. I do have a few plants from my Royal heritage mix that are extraordinary in plant habit and bloom-others are not so swell. This named cultivar, Anna’s Red, is an outstanding plant. It was named after Anna Pavord, UK gardener and writer.
No matter what you might fancy, there is probably a hellebore that will appeal to you. Hellebores, in my opinion, are part of that group of plants that I call fancy plants. Fancy, as in new hybrids of hosta. Fancy, as in unusual. Like the Rembrandt tulips-although their news is now centuries old. Lots of rare and gorgeous plants that gardeners are prone to become besotted over are not such great growers. But I feel convinced that the new hybrids of hellebores are rugged plants. I feel confident in saying any effort you make to grow them will be rewarded.
I have never seen one that did not make my heart pound a little faster. This single flower with an anemone center-wow. Though I have always favored green or white single flowered hellebores, I see no good reason not to change my mind. Interested further? The book “Hellebores – A Comprehensive Guide”, written by C. Colston Burrell and Judith Knott Tyler is a classic. Judith’s nursery, Pine Knott Farms, is a major supplier of fine hellebores. Even a casual internet search will provide lots of information and sources for this stellar spring blooming perennial.
Rob always has a fresh idea for Detroit Garden Works. This winter has been so severe and so long, I doubt anyone will be turning over the dirt much in March. The freezing and snowy landscape notwithstanding, every gardener will be ready to talk plants the first day we hit 40 degrees. He has a plan for a big opportunity for some gardening conversation. In late March, we will have over 600 hellebores available for review and purchase. A helleborus Festivalis.
Every gardener has a big interest in plants. The plants are a bridge where every gardener of every persuasion might meet. That bridge is a place to be. A chance to move from where we are, given a little conversation and exchange, to where or how we might want to be gardening. We hope you are able to join us March 22nd and 23rd at Detroit Garden Works for a little taste of the spring to come.
Freezing is a state (presumably, a transitory state) to which I am reluctantly becoming accustomed. Freezing temperatures are the order of the day. Freezing-what is that, exactly? Water which is subjected to temperatures below 32 degrees transforms from a liquid state to a solid. We commonly call frozen water ice. We have ice just about everywhere. Icy is an adjective that describes relationships gone bad, cold color schemes, the mini stalactites hanging from my gutters, the surface of my driveway, my windshield, and just about every street surface between me and work. Icy means I need to dress in multiple layers-this takes a lot of time, and doesn’t always work so well. Well below zero ice means I need to cover my face, lest my eyelashes freeze. As I am a gardener, and not a scientist, I would define freezing as that state when the world more or less comes to an end.
This section of the roof is always in shade, and the gutter stops up with little or no provocation. Snow fills the gutter, and when subjected to extreme cold, we have ice filled gutters. Once it overflows, icicles form. Understanding the process makes it no less aggravating. The lower part of the roof is laced with heat tape-no matter. The snow has been heavy, the freezing has been severe, and long standing.
Plants have a mechanism for dealing with freezing that is much more efficient than mine. Spring flowering hardy bulbs, for example, cannot be frozen through and through. The usual cause for the failure of potted spring bulbs is a complete freeze. The soil temperature is always higher than the air temperature. Soil which is insulated with a thick layer of snow is less likely to freeze deep.
Cold winter temperatures trigger a biochemical response in the bulb, which converts the starch in the bulb to glucose (sugar). That glucose lowers the temperature at which the cells of the bulb will freeze. Salting a walk does just about the same thing. Salty water requires temperatures below freezing to freeze. The ice on my street is a result of air temperatures that have been so low that even the salty water and snow freezes solid.
Even small bulbs that are only planted a few inches below the soil surface are rarely bothered by extremely low temperatures. When they are completely frozen and rot, there is usually a lack of snow cover. The frost can penetrate the soil in Michigan as deep as 4 feet, but in a year with lots of snow, the frost is not near that deep. Down below the frost line, the soil is a uniform 55 degrees, year round.
The technology exists to harness the ambient heat in the ground to heat cold buildings in the winter, and and cool hot buildings in the summer. Such a system transfers heat and cold, rather than producing it. 50 degree air on a below zero day is a lot of heat. 50 degree air on a 95 degree day is a lot of cooling. The upfront cost of such a system is considerable. I am sure someday that the technology will be simpler, and less expensive to install.
In the meantime, a 6 foot tall person walking down my sidewalk today would be completely hidden from view. This frozen snow will need warmer air temperatures to melt. A good bit of it will sublime, meaning it will pass from a solid to a gas without that intermediary melting stage.