Awash In Hellebores

helleborus.jpgI am embarrassed to complain, given what the people in Boston have endured this winter, but I will say it.  We have had a long tough winter. We had the better part of Boston’s snow last year. This year, no heart or record breaking snow, but plenty of snow nonetheless. The snow I could plow through, and shrug off. The tough part was an interminable run of very cold weather, lots of it below zero. Dressing for a trip outdoors was an event the likes of which was almost intolerable. Boots, gloves, coat, hat, and lots of layers in between. All of this piling on took lots of time. That effort did not come to much good-the cold was bone chilling.  No one took the arctic winter poorer than the corgis. Every day they would plead with me to change the channel. They were bored and irritable. It was a daily thing, wanting to be let out every possible door to the outside-in hopes one would reveal habitable weather.  The spring in Michigan does not come easy or in an orderly fashion. Mother nature takes her time, deciding when the season will change from winter to spring. We have been made to wait.

detroit garden works helleboresWe feel better about the weather, having worked to introduce our own indoor version of spring. In March, we take delivery of over 1000 hellebores from growers all over the US and Canada. We invite gardeners in our area to come, browse and review our collection, and speak for them. We mean to offer gardeners a respite the winter, with our hellebore festival. It takes a few days, but our greenhouse space is starting to look like and smell  like a garden. Our March weather seems to be moderating-we have hope we are on a track to spring.  But if the spring outdoors is practically still weeks off,  we have a version of spring in our greenhouse. Should the spring be a few weeks off, the hellebores are content to reside in  sunny window until the ground outside can be worked.hellebores_double_pink_strain__84306Hellebores are a hardy perennial in our zone. Many of them are hardy in zone 4; most of them are eminently hardy in zone 5.  I treasure them, as they are the first perennial to bloom in my garden in April.  Hellebore foliage is large, and will persist long past the fall and into the winter. In warmer zones, the foliage is evergreen. The Orientalis hybrids throw their bloom stalks very early in the spring, arising out of the declining foliage from the previous season. The new foliage which is to come after the blooming is lush and substantive. They are tolerant of a wide range of conditions in the garden. I grow them in full sun, but I water them when they need it.  They are equally as happy in a lightly shaded location. They can live and increase in a garden for many years, without any need for division. Deer do not touch them. The flowers are surprisingly large, and quite beautiful.

detroit garden works helleboresThe flowers of the hellebores my Mom grew in her garden 50 years ago did not look like these. The blooms were nodding-down facing. To enjoy her bell shaped flowers required getting down on the ground to look up into their faces. She would cut them, and put them in a vase in the kitchen window.  Her favorites were the white and green flowered hellebores, as the pink cultivars were a muddy not so appealing pink.  It took years to grow on a hellebore to a decent size, as they were only available as young starts.  There was always lots more foliage than flowers. Nonetheless, she loved the look of them in her shade/wildflower garden.  Their foliage would last the entire summer and beyond, unlike the spring bulbs and ephemeral wildflowers she cultivated. The hellebore world has changed dramatically since then.

pink flowering helleboresThis group of plants have been the subject of intense breeding all over the globe. A lot of attention has been devoted to breeding plants who flowers are out and up facing. Some breeders have produced strains of hellebores with double flowers, or unusual coloration. Marietta and Ernie O’Byrne, who own Northwest Garden Nurseries, have bred some stunning strains of hellebores.  The same can be said for Judith and Dick Tyler who own and operate Pine Knot Farms. These names are just two of a long list of hellebore enthusiasts who breed and sell plants in Belgium, Germany, England, Japan, the US and Canada.

detroit gardenworks helleboresMost of the plants in the greenhouse are hybrids of helleboris Orientalis. Helleborus Orientalis is not a species of hellebore, strictly speaking. It is a plant which is an interspecific cross from a number of different species hellebores-the O’Byrnes think maybe more than 16 species have a part in what is properly known as helleborus x hybridus. They do not come true from seed, so many of these named varieties are referred to as such and such “strain” of hellebore.  Given that the plants may take 3 years to flower, many breeders sell their young plants with pictures that show the possible color range. The advent of tissue culture has made it possible to clone specific plants, and make them available to interested gardeners.  My discussion of the history and science is quite limited-for a detailed look at hellebores, do visit the website of Plant Delights Nursery. Some of the hellebores we have came from a trip Rob made there a few weeks ago.  Tony Advent does a terrific job making great garden plants available to serious gardeners.  He also does a great job of providing an overview of the history and proper culture of the plants he sells.

   http://www.plantdelights.com/Article/Hellebore-Lenten-Rose/Hellebores/Christmas-Rose/

dscn1230The hybridizing of hellebores to produce stronger growing and beautifully flowered hellebore cultivars has been a shot heard round the world. Today, hybridizers in Europe, Canada, Japan and the US have created cultivars featuring study and garden worthy plants, and breathtaking flowers. The vast majority of the plants we have available now are cultivars that have a proven performance record. And we feature large sized plants that are old enough to produce a good crop of flowers from the start. But we also have a limited number of one of a kind plants that would appeal to a hellebore collector.

detroit garden works helleboresI did buy a collection of named hellebores last February from a nursery in British Columbia, Canada, named Fraser’s Thimble Farms.  They ship small plants to the US, bare root. I did have to pot them up, and baby them along in the window sill of my drawing studio until they took hold. I finally planted the entire lot of them in a patch in my garden that used to be occupied by some not so wonderful looking yews. Just yesterday I could see that the snow had melted, and all of those small plants look like they survived our winter. I am not expecting all of them to bloom this spring, but I have hopes.

h 5We do have gardeners come in who are not familiar with hellebores. This is not so surprising. Some nurseries are reluctant to carry plants that take 3 years to flower from seed, or are already out of bloom in May.  The good news for gardeners is what appears to be the flower is actually a modified calyx, or petal like structures that surround the actual flower. The flower is in the center, and these true petals will drop when the flowering period is over. But the calyx persist on the plants for months, giving the appearance of a really long bloom time. Still, I try to site hellebores in spots that make them easy to view in early spring.

Detroit Garden Works hellebores March 2015 (16)Hellebores also make great container plants.  Everything we ordered for our collection is in, and our Hellebore festival is slated for Friday March 20 through Sunday March 22. Can you come ahead? Of course.

Still Spring

June 13 2014 (3)As I am writing this, the temperature outside is 54 degrees.  This morning, I woke up to 49 degrees. Why do I think this is news fit to print? A 54 degree daytime temperature is a spring temperature.  Should you be thinking that summer has arrived in Michigan, I would ask you to think differently.  In my opinion, we are still in the spring season. Opinion aside, there is plenty to suggest that each of the four seasons lasts just about three months.  I rarely see any deviation from a spring season that spans late March and April, May, and most of June.  The temperature today reminds me that we are in the late stage of spring.  The beginning of summer, the summer solstice, arrives on June 21, still a week away. I have other signs that spring is still holding forth.  This April planting of mixed colors of nicotiana and violas at the entrance to our driveway is just about peaking.  It is astonishingly beautiful and lush.

June 13 2014 (6)Spring annual planted  in April grow and peak the middle of June.  I wonder what these early planted nicotiana will do, come summer.  How could they be any better?  It used to be that no one planted summer annuals before Memorial Day.  I see many people planting out annuals Mother’s Day weekend.  I do not plant any summer annuals on May 10.  Better that all of those tropical annuals have the shelter, sun and heat of a greenhouse in May.  Annual plants in my zone like warm soil, warm days, and warm nights.  Michigan weather is rarely able to deliver those conditions until the beginning of July.

June 13 2014 (9)My spring window boxes look great right now. Lovely and lush.  Pansies and violas like cool weather-spring weather.  Once the heat of our summer comes on, the pansies and violas will fade.  As of today, June 14, they are still getting the weather they need.

June 13 2014 (10) The sweet peas are coming into full bloom.  The plants themselves are prety wild, but the flowers are beautiful and fragrant.  Having never grown them before, I am happy for the cool weather that suits them.

June 13 2014 (12)If you did not plant your pots for spring, so be it.  Every gardener has a schedule and a mission all their own.  I would only point out, on this 55 degree day in June, that the summer season is yet to come.  I did get a few of my own pots planted.  I hope to have them done by June 21. I know they will take right off, given warm temperatures and warm soil.

June 13 2014 (15)The cool weather plant club is a big one, and includes rhubarb, pansies and parsley.

June 13 2014 (17)nasturtiums and bellis

June 13 2014 (7)We did plant the front of Detroit Garden Works for summer a few days ago.. No doubt we are anticipating the summer. We cut the dinner plate dahlias back by half.  It will take them the summer to get going.  They will be at their best in September and October.  I have not planted the roof boxes yet-it is still to cold for what I have in mind.

June June 9 n2014 (25)The early summer cannot hold a candle to the peak of the spring season.  Think of it.  The start of a season is the start.  The conclusion of the season can be glorious.  I call that the super nova stage.   This spring container designed and planted by Rob-exquisite today. The  spring gardening season lasts every bit of three months.  Into late June.  Just saying.

 

 

A Painterly Mix Of Tulips

tulips.jpgAnyone who gardens has a fascination with what I call living color.  The red of tulip is a much different kind of red than red represented by paint.  Color infused by life and light is a special kind of color. It is no wonder that flowering plants are prized by gardeners.  Given the winter we just endured, the first signs of color are so welcome. And no plant is more about the joy of color in the spring than tulips.   mixed-tulips.jpgI plant a mass of tulips at the shop every year.  It is the perfect opportunity to explore shape and color relationships, as every plant looks just about the same. I A mass of all one color is striking in certain settings, and in small groups.  A mix of color and shapes makes for a more painterly approach.

tulips.jpgA good mix begins with a selection that blooms at slightly different times. A very early and a very late tulip will never keep one another company.  Tulips with related bloom times means that the display of color will evolve over time.  From the moment a bud appears to the time of bloom is about a month. The tulips in the foreground of this picture are behind those in the background for a simple reason.  They are close to some fairly large lindens that shade them in the early part of the day.

tulip-mix.jpgThe next step in choosing a mix has to do with height. A mix all at the same height means that each individual flower is not in view.  A mix of heights puts the color both up, middling, and down. Once a tulip comes in to bloom, the flowers continue to grow.  In a cool spring, the stems will grow to their full height, and stay in bloom quite a while.  In a hot year, the stems will be short and the flowers short-lived. Given our fairly cool temperatures, this should be a good year.

tulips 2014 (6)Choosing the colors is the most difficult part.  No one has the luxury of picking a tulip for its color any other way than via pictures in a catalog. A picture of a tulip is not remotely like the real thing.  Solid red tulips can be orange red, or bluish red.  Or red violet. Or red with streaks of yellow. Many tulips are comprised of several different colors overlaying one another.  The edge of the petals may contrast in color with the body of the petal.  Other tulips may be streaked or spattered with another color.

tulips 2014 (3)Tulips that have multiple color tones are great for creating a visually satisfying and complex display.  This softly colored mix is comprised of tulips with subtle color variations.  Choosing colors that are analogous means they are closely related on a color wheel.  The overall effect from a distance is monochromatic, but up close, there are many variations.  This tulip mix is easy on the eyes, but not sleepy. I like looking at pictures of tulips on the John Sheepers website.  The colors represented are fairly true, and they include a written description of the colors as well.  No catalog records what the inside of a tulip looks like.  That warm and sunny day that mature group of tulips opens their petals wide and flat is a beautiful day indeed.    tulips 2014 (15)I do take pictures of tulips on my own, for reference. We do a different scheme every year-why not.  They are all beautiful.  It is surprisingly easy to put colors together that are jarring and ill suited to one another.  I do see a fair number of red and yellow tulips planted together.  A mix is best with a minimum of 3 colors.  The color rhythm is better, and less choppy.  Red yellow and dark purple-an exciting scheme.  Red yellow and orange, a closely related celebration of hot color.  Red, yellow and pink is a little softer, especially if the pink is a littler paler than the others.  Pale yellow, watermelon red and the palest pink is a completely different look than the aforementioned schemes.  Red, yellow and white is striking by way of contrast.

tulip-mix.jpgA color mix also influenced by the ratio of one color to another.  25% yellow, 25% red, and 50% white may read like polka dots. a 33-33-33 blend is an even blend.  A 50-50 mix with one big patch of another color is energetic and catchy.

double-yellow-tulip.jpg

As for this yellow tulip with anemone petals-I have no idea what it is called, or where it came from.  But I am glad to have it as part of the mix.

Naturally Pruned

 

roses-in-early-May.jpgIf you live in my zone, nature has beat you to the spring pruning.  Shrubs weighed down by heavy snow loads have broken branches.  Boxwood exposed to winter winds, extreme cold and snow loads show die back to varying degrees. Any ivy that has climbed into a tree or up the side of the building in a uniform shade of tan. Some of my roses are showing a little green.  Others only show green at the base. Others have red shoots breaking from below ground.

climbing-roses.jpgNature is the source of disaster pruning.  Too cold weather.  Too windy weather.  Gale force winds knock over trees.  Too cold and too harsh winters create die back in the crowns of trees.  Too cold temperatures can wipe away years of growth, or the life of a marginal evergreen.  Nature pruning is a rude and  sweeping process with no discussion beforehand.  As I have said before, nature bats last.  Gardeners are left with the ruins.

roses-sprouting.jpg

The plants play a big part in this process. If a plant is threatened, it may signal branches to die back, to insure survival. I have roses, very old roses, whose tops are lifeless.  But the activity at the base is thick-extraordinary.  Some boxwood will have die back at the tips, but be vital at the interior.  Some hollies will shed their leaves from an extreme winter, but will eventually leaf out normally. Some hydrangea hybrids that are marginally hardy will succumb to the worst winter I have ever experienced. That said,  the will to survive is the most powerful force I have ever ever experienced.

roses-in-May.jpg

The will to live enables me to work, even though I am older.  I am determined to keep designing, and keep gardening.  That will to keep gardening on is about that will to survive.  To keep right on living, in a lively way. The will to live inherent in every plant I grow makes my mistakes in their placement or care no more damaging than a mistake.  Plants can survive the most difficult siting, the worst drainage, less than perfect light, a terrible winter, an attack from Japanese beetles, a blow from a lightening strike-and still soldier on.  My landscape endures without complaint my bad moves, or lack of understanding.

the-rose-garden.jpgPeople do the same. They soldier on, in spite of personal issues that prune them to the quick. All of us living beings come with an extraordinary will to live, standard issue.  We reinvent a landscape.  We rebuild a garden.  We re imagine a space.  We  make a new melody, or tune up.  We take a winter pruning to the next level.  We replace and replant.  None of this is news to you.

rose-sally-holmes.jpgNature saw fit to prune my roses for me.  How gracious of her! It will take some time for them to grow out of the winter damage, but I think it is better to prune back rather than replace.  There is a big root system underground that is probably just fine.  Every day I get a better picture of what will survive, and what will not. And though we have one 80 degree day forecast for this week, we could still have a bout of very cold weather.  Pruning is a call to action, a signal to grow. New growth is especially susceptible to damage from cold temperatures.

roses-gone-over.jpgMy Carefree Beauty roses survived the winter without incident.  But the incredible weight of snow better than four feet took them over-onto my boxwood hedge. Pruning back the dead branches to an outfacing bud will not solve this problem.  How will I address the misfortune visited from one plant onto another?  Ask me tomorrow.  I do not have an answer today.

baltic-ivy.jpgI have seen lots of climbing baltic ivy representing that deadly shade of brown.  This picture is from my garden.  Should I have to prune these vines back to the ground, I will.  Lots of plants whose tops cannot handle a vicious winter are still alive at the root. Be sure the stems are dead, before you prune. If the stems scratch green, live with the unsightly mess long enough to see what will re-leaf, and what is lost.

early-May-garden.jpgOur spring is so cold, I am still wearing my winter gear.  But it my intention to stay in the game, whatever it takes.Watching the maple trees leaf out, the daffodils blooming, the hellebores coming on, the delphiniums a foot tall, the magnolia stellata blooming, the grass greening, the grape hyacinths coming in to bloom-spring is here.  Every spring has its particular aura.  This spring is very much about that miracle which is the will to live.

white-daffodils.jpgI cut a bouquet of daffodils from our garden for Buck.  He is not a gardener, but he did like this vase of flowers I put in the kitchen window for him.  The cups are a miraculous shade of pale peachy pink. What has survived and is doing well in the garden helps to provide a little balance in a spring sometimes upside down.

daffodils.jpgBeautiful, aren’t they?