Posts Tagged ‘hellebore’
The annual first crocus photo of the year. Crocus blossoms kicked off a week in February with temperatures as high as 70 degrees. Historically, there has been much snow in February.
No, it’s not spring (well… it wasn’t spring when I wrote this. With luck I’ll finish posting it today on the first day of spring). In fact, we never have to wait till spring for the season’s first flowers to appear. However, in central Pennsylvania, it’s very uncommon to have flowers in our gardens mid-winter, and that’s what we had.
On Monday, February 20 – the last day of mid-winter – I captured my first crocus photo of the year. We were into a serious warm spell; the coldest day that week was spring-like, and one day – Friday – was hot enough for shorts and a tee shirt.
Here, just two weeks later (OK… it’s a month later), I’m posting my first crocus of the year photo along with a few other shots from the garden on February 20th. Things were moving along too quickly too early, but a mighty cold snap shut it down in March. Last night (guessing that would have been March 5th) the temperature dropped to nine degrees Fahrenheit and all those perennials thinking they had a head start were very confused.
Photos tell the story of February 20.
A few feet from the crocus blossoms, a candytuft plant sported bunches of buds emerging at the ends of leafy stems.
Well sheltered from wind, but in a heavily-shaded planting bed, a young rose bush got pruned by a garden-loving varmint. Fresh, pink terminal buds seemed ready to pop on the last day of mid-winter.
I didn’t know sundrops are “evergreen.” The purple and green variegation attracted me to the plants, so it’s great to see they’ll provide groundcover year-round. From about five plants I set last spring, I counted nine on February 20. It seems likely other new growth hasn’t yet pushed above the surface.
While horseradish leaves die back in late autumn or early winter, new sprouts develop through winter. On February 20, young leaves had started to unfurl. This is one of the most indestructible plants in my garden.
Rhubarb is very hardy. In 2015, young sprouts appeared as cold killed back mature stalks and leaves. Those sprouts remained red and firm all winter and were among the first things to grow in 2016. Here’s a young sprout on February 20, 2017. I love how crinkled and tiny the leaf is, belying how smooth and enormous it will be when it grows up in March and April.
Here’s an unexpected success: This is a Cardoon plant in its third year in my garden. Cardoon withstands temperatures in the high 20s, but it isn’t hardy in zone 6. So… in late autumn, I built a knee-high hoop tunnel over the plant. I peeled back the plastic on February 20, and things looked really good. In fact, it seems new leaves grew since I erected the tunnel. When cold returned in early March, I replaced the plastic. Given the weather forecasts, it seems the plastic will need to remain until April.
Several years ago, Proven Winners gave me two edible honeysuckle plants to try. These are crazy hardy plants; the only shrubs obviously leafing up in mid-winter. Those look like flower buds to me… perhaps this will be the year the plants start producing fruit.
Nearly matching strides with the crocuses, my hellebores were pushing out plump buds on February 20. By the end of the week, many of the buds had opened, but when cold hit in March, blossoms closed and everything shriveled into a heap. This isn’t a bad thing! As days warm, the shriveled plants draw in moisture and plump up as if nothing had interrupted their growth.
For contrast, behold December 14, 2014. This wasn’t the first snow of that season. In fact, we’d had an otherworldly freeze in November that foreshadowed the miserable sustained cold to come.
Nearly every gardener in the United States in winter of 2014-2015 marveled at the crazy weather. Some areas—the Pacific Northwest, for example—experienced crazy, spring-and summer-like weather in what are typically the coldest months. In the Northeast, we had an unbroken string of days so cold that perennials thought they’d moved two hardiness zones north.
Here we go again. But this winter’s reports are different. Gardeners everywhere have been reporting on annuals going strong well into December—annuals that would typically wither and die in October and November. Gardeners have also reported perennials in bloom either way later than they should be, or way earlier.
It’s my turn!
Hardy perennials in a mild winter
While I garden to grow food, I’m paying more and more attention to ornamental plants. In the past few years, my wife and I have added quite a few. My flowering perennials have been just as confused by the weather as so many other perennials across the country. Photos tell the story.
This year, eight days farther into December than last year’s snowy photo above, the newest variety of viola I set in the garden in autumn was still producing buds.
On December 27, my three-year-old viola patch sported blossoms. It didn’t give up until biting cold arrived in early January.
The All-America Selections winner I acquired at a trade show in 2015 is a dianthus (Jolt Pink F1) that didn’t come with a cold hardiness rating. It looked good in the garden all summer and fall, and had a few blossoms on December 27. Even after low temperatures in the teens, it is holding onto blossoms. I suspect it will continue producing in 2016.
Not a late blossom, but rather a very early blossom. I started with hellebores three seasons ago and added two new plants last summer. In my experience, hellebores (you might know them as Lenten Rose or Christmas Rose) bloom about when crocuses bloom—perhaps lagging by a few days. However, I’ve seen hellebore blossoms poking out from snow banks with no crocuses in site. I’d guess different varieties of hellebores blossom at different times. Seeing mine in bloom on December 27 was a surprise. One of my older plants has already put out a dozen or so pink buds, but it did that last winter as well and none opened until March.
It’s still cold enough in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania for ice to form on the water in my “rain garden.” I use quotes because I dug a hole several years ago and it has been wet only in spring thaws and heavy storms—it’s dry most of the year. Haven’t yet decided what to plant in it.
Being a garden writer has changed me. Before I posted my first blog entry, I’d plant almost exclusively things intended for my stomach. I’d joke (and I still joke) that if the plant doesn’t come with a recipe, I won’t waste energy growing it.
There were exceptions. For example, I came across zinnia seeds that were supposed to be special and I planted some. They weren’t special. I also planted poppies year after year until finally two plants survived to adulthood. They met their demise under the lawn mower when my wife sent my oldest child with it into an unkempt flower bed.
How Garden Writing Changed Me
Through blogging I got to know other garden writers and a group of them in New England organized an outing to a public garden in very eastern New York… I have friends in that area I’d actually already met in person, so I used the outing as an excuse to visit.
A cluster of leaf buds sits on the soil line between stems that supported last year’s blossoms. I bought closeouts at the end of the season in 2014 and “healed them in” in my vegetable garden. I’ll transplant these into the rock garden I expect to create in April.
It was a most terrific day. I toured a gorgeous garden with people I had known only as avatars and Twitter names. As those people became “real,” my change began.
My friends all were giddy about the garden and it was easy to understand why: Textures and colors intertwined in displays I’d never have conceived. Gorgeous arrangements of rocks, wood, water, and living plants drew us from one themed area to another. The weather was perfect. The light was perfect. The people were perfect.
Ideas accumulated in my mind. Ornamental gardens around homes in central Pennsylvania are, for the most part “shrub-and-mulch” monstrosities (set shrubs and young trees throughout a planting bed and spread mulch). I don’t recall seeing mulch in the public garden (it was probably there, but I simply didn’t notice it); each themed area combined hardscaping and a variety of plants to interest a visitor looking up, forward, or down. Plants provided the ground cover that mulch provides in central Pennsylvania!
Hens and Chicks were on sale at a yard sale late in 2014. I bought two for a dollar apiece and heeled them in in the vegetable bed next to the sedum. They’ll also move to a new rock garden in April.
I’ve resisted the change, but each subsequent visit to a show garden has provided more inspiration; more examples of ornamental garden design done well. And there’s another factor:
Whenever I attend a GWA event or a horticulture industry conference, it seems I bring home seeds and plants to try in my garden. When those aren’t edibles, I imagine my yard some day rivaling the many show gardens I’ve visited.
Am I close? Do I know what plants will look good together when they grow up? Do I have any ability to design an attractive ornamental garden? Does this paragraph contain enough questions? (No. No. Maybe. Do you think it contains enough questions?)
What’s in my Kitchen Garden Now
Last autumn, I grabbed a whole bunch of hardy succulents at a garden center—marked down to a fifth or less of their “in-season” prices—Tall-standing and ground-hugging sedums, and Hens and Chicks. I had also picked up some sedum roots at Cultivate ’14 and had nursed most of them into seedlings.
I fell in love with hellebores when I first saw their fleshy white flowers poking out of a snow bank. Prices for these plants always seemed high until I found a friend selling native plants at a local garden show last spring. I bought one from her and she generously gave me another. They went in the garden in early summer and spent a lackluster season there. Despite drawing full shade until late afternoon, one hellebore was already putting up flower stalks by the time the snow melted off of it as spring approached.
As gardening season ’14 ended, I simply ran out of time to install the planting bed I want for these succulents. To increase their chances of surviving winter, I “heeled them in” in my vegetable bed. They’ve been covered with snow for months, but it melted off while I was away last week. They look spectacular! Photos complete the story.
Given that the ground is still firm with surface frost and frozen through in some places, it’s astonishing to find so many plants looking alive and ready for spring. I’m ready to go; I wish the climate felt the same.
Horehound doesn’t belong on this list. I added it two seasons ago, technically not as an ornamental element—it’s an herb. I included the photo because the plant is remarkable. Last season, the horehound emerged from winter dried up and burnt; all growth in 2014 came from the roots. This winter brought at least one month-long stretch where the temperature never rose out of the teens; it seemed colder overall than the previous winter. Still, snow melted away to reveal healthy, beautiful leaves on the horehound plant… it’s so true that snow insulates plants from winter cold.