If you are experiencing a spring astonishingly fast forwarded as I am, you have a garden usually sleepy in mid March that is marching dramatically on to a drummer you have never met before. I am struggling to keep up. I have 2 areas in my garden devoted to the cultivation of hellebores-why wouldn’t I? Their leaves are evergreen until late winter. Their flowers are intricate; the sepals are astonishingly colored. Once established, they make big gorgeous clumps, even in fairly shady locations. It is the first perennial to break ground and bloom for me in the spring. This is one of my most favorite moments of the gardening year.
The leaves are stubbornly stalwart-they do not go brown until late in the winter. The bare flower stalks emerge early in the spring; the new leaves will come later. Just when gardeners are about to go mad from the endless grey and cold of the winter, they deliver. The flowering stalks of helleborus orientalis emerge early in the spring-this usually means early April. The sustained 80 degree temperatures had thrown my hellebores into full bloom in mid March. My magnolias, PJM rhodendrons and maple trees were not far behind. I have flowers everywhere, at a time I usually associate with the last of the winter.
No matter how much I might write about the natural order of things, the real news is that I have hellebores blooming way ahead of my usual spring cleanup. The late winter tattered leaves in concert with new bloom stalks-not my idea of a good look. The early spring has caught me by surprise. To say I was not ready for the hellebores to represent is putting it mildly.
My impulse was to clip and clean up-fast. But how could I? I am used to cutting off all of the dead foliage on a plant with one swipe, as I usually do this before the bloom stalks stir. This year I had to proceed with caution, for fear I would mistake a bloom stalk for a leaf. I did cut off two flowering stalks-how irritating. One of my greatest spring pleasures has become a marathon I had no chance of winning.
A fast cleanup given the very early and unseasonably warm weather might rake away a moment you do not want to miss. This clump of crocus was buried undeneath last years hellebore foliage. Any carelessness on my part would have been disastrous. I am happy to say this little crosus clump was beautiful for 2 days, until the heat made it collapse in a heap. But 2 days was better than no days. I knew enough to take a picture, that this flowering would be ephemeral. Beyond my shears, the only tool I put to this cleanup was my fingers. Any garden accumulates leaves and sticks and other garden memorabilia over the winter. Each bit came out of this garden one cautious handful at a time.
The new and tender shoots of your hellebores might benefit from those gentle fingers-they are so easy to break. New growth is as extraordinarily tender as it is beautiful. Easy does it is the only way to do it. So for 2 nights after work, and two weeks late to the game, I cleaned up my hellebore patches.
My old hellebores are sprouting from seed like crazy this spring. How pleased I am about this! A gentle spring cleanup does not dislodge the babies. My hellebores are grown with sweet woodriff, and crocus. I interfere as little as possible with what goes on here. I do not worry them about anything. I water when they need it-that’s all.
Rob’s Ivory Prince hellebores are planted in myrtle. This taller vining groundcover can make the spring cleanup all the more time consuming. He tells me the hellebore cleanup is finished-and on to the next part of his garden that needed cleanup a week ago. Both of us have held off on any pruning-sure enough, night temperatures in the mid 30′s are forecast for next week. The ride could get bumpier. We’ve have snow and freezing temperatures in April plenty of times.
My hellebore patch looks much better now. Now on to the roses which are completely leafed out, and still sporting dead blooms from last fall. And then there are the 6″ tall weeds in the isotoma and herniaria. And the emerging leaves of Jack Frost brunnera encircled by their winter remains. Have I mentioned that my holiday wreath and magnolia garland are both still in place? And that the greens in my winter pots have gone brown with the heat? My delphiniums are a foot tall. My Magnolia Stellata started dropping petals after one 88 degree day in bloom. My Yellow Butterflies magnolias are showing color. My maples are blooming. I have talked of nothing else to Buck for 2 days. In celebration of my out of season garden and my attending hand wringing for the last 2 days, he drummed up some of his favorite Christmas music for me last night. What else could he possibly do for me? Funny, that guy. Not so funny, this weather.