Hellebores

What is not to love about a hellebore?  Just one thing.  They are so slow to get going and get gorgeous-more on this part later.  Everything about their habit and flowers is stellar. The thick leatherly leaves are beautiful all season long.  The flowers are astonishingly beautiful.  I rather think they are the the Ferrari of perennial plants.  They deliver beauty in a visually very powerful way.  They have a capacity for high rpms that leave other perennials in their dust-even though they are quite small when mature.  One could easily imagine fields of them.  Another bonus?  The sepals hold for for a very long time after the flowering has finished-as pictured above.  This gives the impression of a very long period of bloom.  The last of the best?  They are quite willing to set seed.

 Were I but one or two zones warmer, I would grow them all.  Hellebore species are divided by those that are caulescent (meaning they have leaves on their flowering stems) and acaulescent.  Acaulescent hellebores-such as Helleborus Niger, and Helleborus Orientalis, send up flowers stalks before they get around to the business of throwing leaves.  I tried for years to cultivate the caulescent hellelorus argutifolius-unsuccessfully.  The leafy stalks armed with flowers were invariably done in by my winter.  I yanked the entire lot of them, after 7 years.  Their leaves would be so ravaged by the winter that I could barely enjoy the flowers.  How upset I was that they did not grow for me was ridiculous-I wanted them that bad.  Helleborus foetidus and Helleborus lividus-not in the stars.

My current collection-all acaulescent varieties. I have grown up about which hellebores make sense for me.  No matter how badly you want them, they have to like you.  Of course I think any plant that I have a great love for would return that sentiment, and grow for me.  Not so.  So not so.

 I have some Heritage hybrids-from the heritage series-bred from helleborus orientalis.   Some are virtually black-others are white, with spots.  I have pink, mauve, green-and every combination thereof.  I have white and green baby orientalis hellebore hybrids from Knot Hill farms.  The baby part is discouraging; they do take years to make good sized clumps. 

I do so hope that by time I am 80, I will have strongly representing stands of hellebores.  They will do more for my heart than any medicine. If I were you, I would plant 10 of them today.

The hybrid hellebore Ivory Prince is an exception to the pokey rule.  It is a strong and fast grower.  This particular cultivar is an upstart you might want to consider for your garden.  The color-hellebore moody.  Green, cream, and a hint of brownish pink.  The habit-garden worthy.  One of its best attributes-the flowers look up at you.  This part I really appreciate. 

I have flowers not yet in bloom-this should give you an idea of late the spring is.  I like that one of my favorite plants is also one of the first to appear.  They fly that flag that makes me want to get going in the garden.
Very lovely, aren’t they?

Emerging

 

Do not under any circumstances miss this part.  The emerging.  Those of us who live in climates where the seasons change-that period of transition can be as brief as it is astonishingly beautiful.  The weather during this time period can be unsettled, even violent.  Plants dormant during our long winter sprout-given the spring.  They emerge; they break ground.  Breaking ground-the phrase suggests a new beginning, a new project.   Vernissage-the French word for opening.  My season is opening. The winter season is fading-spring is emerging. Some change is slow-some change is quick and startling.

 Plants unerringly know when spring is due.  Dormant buds swell, and show green.  My Thelypteris decursive pinnata-my Japanese beech ferns-I see them today.  Yesterday nothing.  Today-a lot of substantial somethings. The hellebore flower stems raise their heads. and grow towards the light.  The tulips out of the ground-2 to 3 weeks until they bloom.  My daffodils moved from short green buds to tall stalks with flowers in just 2 days. 

Pay attention now.  The emerging phase is so short, you may need to cancel plans and stay home, and watch. The boston ivy on my walls show signs of life.  Why these shoots are a brilliant red-I do not know. But I do know that this part of the life cycle of Boston ivy is of great interest to me.    

The earliest of magnolias-I have one unknown variety in bloom right now.  I inherited this tree.  It has quadrupled in size, the past 15 years.  I do not know its name-I only know it is the first plant to make a substantial move in my garden, in spring.  These flowers-a good three weeks later than usual.  This makes the emerging phase all the more precious. High winds and rain will make this blooming moment a short one. 

Time in a garden is never made up.  A very late to come spring means a very short spring.  Pay attention-watch like a hawk.  This spring will surely be very short.  Don’t miss it.  The miracle that is nature-I could write about it all day long for many days.  My writing would matter next to nothing-compared to the experience of spring.  My European ginger emerged and got leafy in the blink of an eye.  This green could not be more welcome. 

My advice?  Experience your spring. Get down on the ground, and look at what is emerging.  This sky blue grape hyacinth-like nothing else I have in my garden.  Clean up.  Walk your garden, once the winter has drained away.  Assess.  Plan.  Most of all-enjoy.  Look to the sky-most trees bloom. Don’t miss the blooming of the shade trees. 


Species tulips have none of the height of hybrid tulips.  But they do have this going for them.  They are early, and quite persistent.  By this I mean, really perennial.  This species tulip, Oratorio, has remarkable foliage.  An upper green leaf stained purple.  Aubergine and green veination-spectacular.     


No one admires box elders-they are junk trees. No gardener plants them.  I do however admire them though, for their willingness to colonize very difficult urban sites. They have no problem living in a precipitous crack in a sidewalk.  The will to live-I admire this.  And their spring blooming is an extraordinary affair.  Not at all ordinary, or noxious.         


This box of lettuce emerging-delicious to my eye. Spring to my mind-so loaded with possibility.  My advice?  Should you be a gardener, expand your horizons.  Become a naturalist.  Observe at ground level.  Look up.  See the shade trees blooming.  Observe, all around.   Any experience of nature will make you a better gardener-I promise.

An Extraordinary Garden

I do think I wrote this winter about some of the books I was reading-winter means gardening from afar in my zone.  Given the snow-I read.  Courtesy of and on the recommendation of Rochelle Greayer at Studio G, I  I bought a book.  “Close: Landscape Design and Land Art In Scotland”.  The well written essays in the book were written by Tim Richardson.  The stunningly beauty photography-by Allan Pollok-Morris.   

I have had really good reason to be reading this book.  Spring got arrested some weeks ago, and has yet to make her bail.  The past few weeks, 4 days of seven have been called on account of rain.  Can you hear me sighing?  Moving on beyond a missing a good many days of spring season-I am reading.  Some books take my mind off the winter that seems to be lingering.  This particular book deserves a place in your library, should you have the space.  One garden in particular has captured my imagination.  Dunbeath Castle, Caithness, Scotland, is extraordinary in every regard.  Dating from the 17th century, perched on a cliff overlooking the sea-heartstopping.   

The gravel drive to the house is lined with ancient and windswept London Planes.  How the drive is sunk into a valley between a pair of grassed knolls-stunning.  The welcoming light at the house, all the more intense given the probable length of the exposure of this photograph-so beautiful.  The sea visible beyond the house- this is a long view with no end.  This may be the most enchanting landscape I have ever seen.  Maybe more extraordinary than the landscape-this photograph.  My copy is poor, but you get the idea.  Allan Pollok-Morris created a work of great beauty.  If there ever was a perfect moment in a landscape-this has to be it. 

I was astonshed to read that this cliff in Scotland regularly endures 100 mile an hour winds.  I see no evidence of that here; the perennial garden is walled.  These perennial borders are breathtaking.  The book tells me that the landscape designer of record currently is Xa Tollemache.  What she has accomplished here, in  concert with her client, is extraordinary.  The stands of heliotrope blue campanula- breathtaking.  

The tall walls protect the perennial gardens here from high winds.  Every spring at the shop, we have broken pots, topiaries snapped off -utter distruction from wind.   This photograph makes me understand that a truly beautiful garden depends on a committment to protect.      

This walled garden is a considerable distance from the castle perched on a cliff overlooking the sea. The work that is involved to foster and permit this garden to thrive is staggering-this is obvious.  My garden is by no means a fairy tale-but I do work at it.  My garden, and the gardens I design, ask for a gardener in charge who happily takes responsibility.  I know lots of gardeners like this. Fairy tale gardens-I depend on these to encourage me to do better.  

At the center of this rose garden-an ornament whose provenance is unbeknownst to me.  No matter. The very tall and beautifully blooming tritoma would be lost without that central ornament of unknown orgin.   The rose garden laid out in concentric circles-lovely.   

The cairn pictured above-do not ask me its material, or inventor.  The plant material clothing this steep slope dropping to the sea-I cannot provide any information.  The red steel reindeer a third of the way down the precipitous slope-I have nothing to add to this photograph.  Make all of what you see in this photograph what you will.  All of the delight of it is the visual experience.      

I love the congestion suggested by Mr. Pollok-Morris’s photograph.  Lots and lots of plants.  A relationship he suggests between a castle, and a distant gazebo overgrown with plants. The sea in the background-anything but cultivated and tended.   


This meadow at Dunbeath Castle-I cannot take my eyes off this photograph.  It is as beautiful as any perennial border I have ever seen.  Amazon has this book available-I highly recommend it.  Beyond this,  I can only say that landscapes and gardens of this caliber are rare; the chance to see it in any form is a great pleasure. The essays of Tim Richardson, and the photographs of Allan Pollok-Morris,  in regards to extraordinary landscapes in Scotland-they shine.

A Driveway

 

For good or for ill, most of us inherit a driveway that comes with the home we buy.  They are a necessity of life-most of us drive any number of places in a given day.  There is a need for space for multiple cars, a place for company to park.  Plenty of driveways are designed by exuberant contractors that love their hard surfaces better than they love anything else.  This accounts for diveways like the one pictured above.  It looks big enough to host a pair of UPS trucks side by side, and it is.  19 feet wide, that is.    

Sometimes you get lucky; this driveway was 28 years old, and deteriorated.  It needed to be replaced, which meant it could be redesigned.  A new material might be considered.  A giant concrete landing pad in front of the garage doors had doubled as a basketball court for quite a few years.  The kids are grown now; a client’s use of their landscape can change over the years. 

My first idea was to make it smaller.  I pull my chevy Suburban in and out of my driveway every day; at one point the drive is but 8 feet wide.  This drive will have a finished width of 13 feet.  Less is more, and less is nice-unless you have different than average requirements.  Some streets do not allow parking on the street.  Some families are big families.  Some people entertain a lot, or have 4 drivers going in and out at different times.  Should you have a very wide driveway by default, or need a wide drive, there are ways to minimize the impact on the eye.  The use of several materials, and the color of the surface can make a world of difference.  

As this house has a contemporary feeling about the architecture, the drive is being poured in concrete that will have an exposed aggregate surface.  A grid of steel rebar will be laid in-this gives the concrete considerably greater strength.  Portland cement, water, and an aggregate are mixed together prior to the pour.  I am sure you have all seen a concrete truck, the barrel of which turns constantly.  Concrete will begin to set up very quickly; the motion keeps the aggregate evenly dispersed in the cement cream until it is poured. 

The mixture is released from the chute as the contractor requires.  This is a lot of batter to look after.  The forms that hold the concrete have been set up to insure that the finished surface pitches away from the house.  The driveway being replaced had little pitch; my client would have ice in her garage on occasion as a result.  Much the scale of a grading rake is a concrete screed; it helps the contractor to smooth the mixture to the level set by the forms.   

He tells me this mixture is a little soupier than he likes, but the finished product will be fine.  Once the mixture is poured, it will be covered with plastic, and allowed to rest until the lower level firms up.  Though the curing process is a chemical reaction, the cool and rainy weather will slow the initial hardening process.  At precisely the proper moment, the concrete cream which has risen to the surface will be washed away, leaving 1/3 of the stone exposed, and 2/3 of the stone securely embedded in the concrete.  Beautifully executed exposed concrete aggregate is an absolutely beautiful surface.  It is a difficult surface to do well.   This driveway is being done by Albaugh Stone and Masonry; they are well known for the quality of their work.     

You can see from this picture that the basketball court where I am standing at the end of the old drive is no more.  Once the drive is done, a decision will be made about how to l;andscape the space.  This photograph says everything about what my client sees when she comes home every day.  The driveway landscape is a very important one-most people visit it every day. 

How the transition between the garage and drive gets handled is important to the functionality of the drive.  Water has to drain away.  The narrow transitional strip of garage upon which the garage door sits will be removed.  The sand strip you see here, and the garage strip will be repoured as a single piece; this piece will drop 3/4 of an inch from the floor of the garage.    

Exposed concrete aggregate is a very sturdy and strong driveway surface which survives our harsh winters quite well.  The textured surface from the exposed stone is visually lively, but very clean and uniform.  The crisp surface will compliment the architecture well. 


Once the concrete is poured, washed and sawcut, I will write again about the design of the surface. Any beautiful material asks for a thoughtful design.