Hellebore Hardy

hellebore hardy (1)Would that every plant in my garden could be hellebore hardy. Hellebore hardy? Hellebore hardy is that state of plant being which is as tough as nails, bud and bloom hardy, every day in hostile weather, as in every crappy spring wild card day hardy. We have had crazy cold and blustery weather the first 12 days of April. As in daytime highs of 28 degrees, and some night time lows at 19 degrees.  If it were January, or February, or even the first part of March, these temperatures would not bother anything in my garden.  At that time, every plant is dormant, and oblivious to the day to day changes in temperature. This kind of cold in the spring can damage emerging flowers and leaves. Our espaliered fruit trees are very close to blooming.  I am hoping they hold off for a week, as below freezing temperatures can easily damage or wipe out those flowers. The flowering stalks of my hellebores emerged from the ground a month ago. The have been growing steadily, in spite of a lengthy bout of really cold and windy weather.

hellebore hardy (3)The flowering stalks of the hellebores usually come out of the ground in my zone in mid March. They are programmed to come out of the ground, fighting. How they fight to bloom enchants me. March and April are politely known as transitional months in Michigan.  As in 2.5 parts winter dueling fiercely with .5 parts of spring.  Hellebores bloom in spite of that conflict-  I admire that cheekiness about them. Their ability to withstand cold, snow, ice, freezing rain and wind when they have broken dormancy and begun to grow is remarkable.  All the more extraordinary is their ability to shrug off this hostile weather while in full bloom. This picture was taken at the end of the day on April 10. I was worried that every flower would be at least damaged, if not obliterated by morning.

hellebore hardy (2)It was not an idle worry. My white flowered magnolia stellata is full of white flowers gone to brown mush.  The early flowering magnolias are not hellebore hardy. Their flowering can be laid low and obliterated by cold April weather.  I don’t love them less for this.  I just know that a tumultuous spring has its disappointments, and its survivors. My stellata blooms well 2 out of 5 years.

hellebore hardy (8)The hellebores are survivors.  They do not need any help from me if the beginning of spring is deadly cold. They never ask for much of anything, actually. As for April 11, my hellebores revived. Once the snow and ice melted, and the air temperatures warmed up, my hellebores got back to the business of blooming. My old clumps are sensational this year.

hellebore hardy (12)This big clump, one of many of the old Royal Heritage strain that I grow, is unfazed by inclement weather.

hellebore hardy (5)It is hard to believe that these flowers survived night temperatures ranging from 19 to 27 degrees, over a period of almost 2 weeks.

hellebore hardy (6)Hellebore flowers are big and showy.  What is just as showy is how they handle the late winter weather. Showier still is that these plants are still growing strong, despite their age.  Most of my original group was planted well over a decade ago. I do not often see the Royal Heritage strain offered for sale – pity that.

hellebore hardy (9)To follow are some pictures of my hellebores – both old and new.  I appreciate every one of them, especially given that most of the rest of the garden is still biding its time, hoping for a clearer sign that spring is here.

hellebore hardy (7)Royal heritage strain

hellebore hardy (17)Conny is a newer variety.  This is its 3rd spring.

hellebore hardy (10)Royal Heritage strain

hellebore hardy (11)Royal heritage strain

hellebore hardy (14)Royal Heritage strain

hellebore hardy (18)This spotted double is a newer variety whose name I cannot remember. Lovely, and sparse.

hellebore hardy (16)My newest group of more recently bred hellebore hybrids are gawky and thin. I am hoping to see them put on some weight this year. It is too soon to determine whether they will form big and persistent clumps. The Royal Heritage Mix may not have the interesting shapes and the clearer colors as the newest varieties that are available, but they are reliable. Should you have an interest in this discussion regarding hellebores persistence, I would invite you to read an essay from the well known English gardener and garden writer, Noel Kingbury. His column is a regular read for me. He worries that the new cultivars are not as vigorous as the old fashioned varieties.  His life is a world away from mine, but his commentary on the garden is of interest to me.   http://noels-garden.blogspot.com/2016/02/hellebore-troubles.html

Thinking Spring: The First Of The Small Flowering Bulbs

first crocusThe first spring flower in my garden is always a snowdrop, but the crocus are never far behind. This year, they are early. I suppose an unusually mild winter and a decent string of warmish days account for that. Last year, spring begrudging arrived in late April.  My crocus had barely been in bloom a day before one bitterly cold late April night knocked them to the ground. A gardener’s life is much about moments – some of which are very brief. I am more than a week into the crocus blooming-this is a good year for them. This first crocus is blooming through the remains of an old clump of lady’s mantle. I only do the most rudimentary of fall cleanups. I like a garden to have a winter blanket. Still, that crocus bloom pushing its way up through the matted mess of roots and decaying leaves, is a testament to the persistence of life.

FullSizeRender (5)My crocus do not seem mind the thicket of baltic ivy that covers the ground where they emerge every spring.  There is more to this than meets the eye.  Baltic ivy on the surface is a tangled mess of vines.  But underground the roots are stout and unbelievably thick. If you have ever tried to remove a patch of Baltic ivy, I am sure you threw aside your trowel for a sharp bladed trenching shovel. A mature stand of ivy slated for removal takes the sharpest and biggest tool, a steely amount of determination, and a will to overcome. Add to this a lot of sweat and time, and you will get the picture.  My crocus does not mind the ivy. They thrive, in spite of it.

IMG_0144They push through what is underground, and emerge above ground-effortlessly. Gracefully. They manage their life with equal parts of grace and tenacity. It could be that my most favorite part of the crocus blooming is how they make me get down on the ground to see them. Being close to ground level is an experience of nature like no other. Ground level in a garden is an experience of a living city that is thriving. That experience is what keeps me gardening.

FullSizeRender (3)The story of the earth, and all of the life teeming just below and just above the surface, is a tale that delights each and every gardener. I am sure that what makes gardeners such a close but equally diverse group is their respect for the miracle that is nature. Everyone experiences gardening differently. Those differences make for lots of stories that get passed around.  The respect that every gardener feels for that incredible force that we call nature is what glues us all together. On the flip side, I am just about unglued waiting for our winter to end. The crocus is making that easier to bear.

IMG_2853So my story, this 23rd of March, is that I have crocus in full bloom. Crocus are incredibly beautiful. They are a member of the iris family.  The white stripe at the center of the leaves is typical. Crocus bulbs are planted in the fall. The corms are small, and not very expensive. They take next to no effort to get them planted 3 inches below ground. Even on a cold November day, planting crocus is doable.

DApril-16a-2013SC_0040-9-620x416When they bloom, there is an explosion of color. The blooms are large and showy. They populate an area readily and without any intervention from me. I have never done anything to them, except plant and enjoy. I greatly admire how they shrug off the late winter weather. The coming of the crocus tell me that spring is on the way.

IMG_2856The beginning of spring is not always so easy to detect. One spring day, the birds start singing. That is my first sign. The dormant garden has nothing much to say, but for the crocus.  The crocus emerge and go on to bloom during that time when nature is not entirely sure it is ready to swing in to spring. If you are a gardener, transitional blooming early spring bulbs might jump start your spring.

crocusCrocus are not native to North America. The first species crocus bulbs reputedly made their way to the Netherlands in the mid 16th century from Turkey. This photograph of crocus tommasinianus blooming, via Wikipedia, provides ample evidence that the species crocus are just as lovely as the more readily available giant Dutch hybrids –  derived from the species crocus vernus. Crocus_longiflorus5 from wikipediaCrocus longiflorus, photograph from Wikipedia

crocus blue pearlCrocus chrysanthus Blue Pearl  blooming around a fence post, from Wikipedia. It is a gardening moment that stops me dead in my tracks. How enchanting is this? Happy spring to you.


The English Daisy Lawn

Bellis_perennis_Marburg_02Daisies? I have always liked them. They are easy going and companionable in the garden. They are not fancy. They are sunny and friendly. A bunch of daisies relaxing in a vase is a sure sign of summer in my zone. They are sturdy plants, meaning they are willing growers and easy to care for. The daisy/aster family is a large one, comprising more than 20,000 species. Simple, single flowered and obliging-this describes most daisies. A well grown stand of  shasta daisies is stunning in bloom. But my favorite daisies are those that tend to the weedy side. My most favorite daisy?  Bellis. As in bellis perennis.  That English daisy that is scrappy enough to thrive in a lawn, providing you garden in a zone where the summers are on the cool side.

English daisiesThe broad leaved foliage forms a tuft that hugs the ground. That they thrive in a lawn can be good or bad, depending on your definition of a lawn. The informal and casual entrance to a lakefront neighborhood near me is covered with white bellis blooming in the spring. There are some trees, a sign, and the English daisy lawn. The conditions must suit them perfectly, as it appears the only maintenance is an occasional mowing. Another neighborhood entrance a good hour away features a few trees, a bell tower, a sign, and a bellis lawn. Though our summers are anything but moderate, these two patches thrive.

William-Adolphe_Bouguereau_(1825-1905)_-_Daisies_(1894)I make a point to go and look at the daisy fields at least once in the spring, as I would have one if I could. The bellis in my yard is not nearly so robust. The grow for me, begrudgingly. I am likely to grow them in pots until they are done blooming.  Then I set them out in a different spot in my garden, hoping to eventually find a place they will like. This painting by the 19th century painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau, entitled “Daisies” tells more than one sweet story. It had me thinking about how I might get an English daisy lawn.

painting the shop floor (1)Detroit Garden Works has been closed since January 15. We routinely clean and repaint. This year we needed repairs to our roof, and some of our outside walls needed to be rebuilt. We had water coming through some damaged concrete block, and in to the building. That water greatly damaged the painting on the floor.  Once the repairs to the building were done, it was time to repaint that floor. You can see the gray spots where the paint had lifted off the floor. Dan took great care to isolate the room from our furry population. Milo, Howard, Ollie, Gary and most of all MCat would be obsessed about getting in that room. Once the room was secure,Dan laid down a primer coat of paint over the old floor painting.

repainting the floorI rolled the base coat in three different colors, all of them dark. Succeeding layers of paint would be progressively lighter.

painting the shop floor (2)All of the paint applied in the beginning of stage 2 was put down with small wood garden marker, taped to a bamboo stake. This was Buck’s invention. I wanted to be able to paint standing up, as much as possible. I was after a loose textural description of grass.  The border was undercoated with several shades of gray and gray brown, which would become a gravel border.   repainting the shop floor (5)This is the 3rd time I have painted this floor since we opened in 1996.  I probably would have done a new floor painting anyway, as the shop has a 20th anniversary coming up the end of March. It is a very special spring for us. It seems like the perfect time for a floor painting that features a few English daisies in bloom. And just in time. The shop will reopen for 2016 on March 1st.

repainting the shop floor (4)The grassy portion of the painting is just about done. I have looked at it all morning, trying to decide if what is there is enough, or if I need a few finishing touches.

repainting the shop floor (3)The gravel border is comprised of paint drops in various colors. It was impossible to keep my shoes out of it. This part is done and dry. If all goes well this afternoon, there will be daisies in the grass.

English lawn daisiessomething like this.

Be Picky About Perennials

pereennial garden  I know the title of this post sounds heartless, but there is no need to plant every plant you can find in your garden unless you are young, you want to learn by doing, and you have acreage. If this is not your situation, there is nothing wrong with being choosy. The fact of the matter is that no perennial plant is without its shortcomings. Some fall over, or seed relentlessly. Some are disease prone, or beloved of bugs. Others fail to perform unless they have a full time nanny. Still others would grow in your bedroom window if you take your eyes off of them. Still others have a painfully awkward habit of growth, or an incredibly short life span. Those perennials with nondescript or poor foliage – I will not plant them. I make a point of seeing new hybrid introductions in test gardens, as I am fiercely protective of what plants I give ground to in my own yard, or my client’s gardens. I designed and planted the garden pictured above 15 years ago. This year I will redo it.  I suspect my plant palette will be different. I like plants that deliver and endure.

double bloodrootThis said, I routinely break my own rules. I would plant double bloodroot, knowing that their yearly bloom time might be a few hours, and their foliage dies back in the blink of an eye. I would attempt to grow roses, even though they come with a long list of do’s and don’t’s. I like snakeroot, even though there flower stems droop.  The joy of my garden? My choices may be thoughtful or capricious. Either is fine. No one will be stopping by this week, or any week, to grade my garden. For good or for ill, and thankfully, I am in charge of my garden decisions. No one cares or ever will care more about my garden than I do. So I do think through my decisions about what to plant. I will have no one else to blame for my bloopers. I may ignore my own advice when I am so inclined. I make mistakes, most of which make me laugh. I should have known better. Be assured that I have planted lots of perennials that languished and died. I have planted even more that I wish would die. A poorly performing perennial that struggles back year after year to no good end – nothing makes me more furious than a mediocre performance from a plant.

Walters Gardens astilbe Visions in PinkYou may find fault with my notion that plants in my garden need to perform. So let me visit the idea of performance. A garden is a terrific amount of work, much of which is not all that much fun. I like plants that reward my efforts with their beauty. A great performing plant is a plant whose habit, substance, hardiness, flowers and foliage are equally beautiful.  The Visions series of astilbe come very close to this level.  They do remarkably well in open shade, and are tolerant of full sun if they have sufficient water.  The foliage is glossy and healthy all season long. The flower stalks are sturdy. They are hardy in my zone.

blue delphiniumIt’s a rare gardener who is not besotted by the sight of a well grown stand of blue delphinium. The day they come into full bloom is the June day we will have a driving rainstorm that will take most of them down to the ground. You can see the support strings in this picture from the RHS. But there are ways to limit your exposure to disaster. Thin mature clumps, to promote good air circulation and discourage fungus. Pinch them back early, for more sturdy stems.  Plant the smaller growing species, d. belladonna or d. ballamosum, or shorter growing hybrids, as opposed to the exhibition sized varieties. If you buy seed for delphiniums bred in England or New Zealand, consider their climate before you try to grow them in Wyoming. If you must have those big delphiniums, be good natured about the aphids and the less than wonderful foliage once the bloom is finished. Don’t forget to feed and feed again.

pure peonies    Every living thing is flawed one way or another. This includes me, and my opinions about what perennial plants I would recommend. I have a point of view based on my experience, patience, and . None of the aforementioned Some flaws are charming.  Other flaws are deal breakers.  I avoid plants that are not truly hardy in my zone. I also pass by those plants that need and thrive in an environment that I cannot provide.  A flawless perennial is even rarer. It may not even exist. It would have gorgeous foliage, a long and heavy bloom time, a weatherproof habit of growth, good resistance to disease and bugs, a minimum in hands on maintenance – as in deadheading, division, staking, feeding or any other attention, perfectly hardy ands winter tolerant in my zone, adaptability to a wide range of light and soil conditions, a long life span, a healthy respect for the plants next door, vigor without aggression, a compact habit, great substance, early to show and late to go down-am I missing anything? This photograph of a hedgerow of the peony “Moonstone”, from Pure Peonies, is a good example of a perennial that is worth a second look. If you love perennial plants, pick and choose what to grow.