The Hellebores In March

What’s better than waiting out the end of the Michigan winter is a road trip to Pine Knot Farms to pick up a collection of hellebores. After some discussion with Dick Tyler, I placed an order, and our David drove our sprinter there to pick them up.  Pine Knot Farms has been breeding hellebores for a good many years. Their strains of helleborus hybridus are incredibly vigorous, strong blooming, and hardy in our zone.  The book written by Judith and Dick Tyler, entitled “Hellebores: A Comprehensive Guide”, was and still is a comprehensive and succinct description of the genus Helleborus. It is an invaluable reference work, and I reach for it whenever I have a question about hellebores.

helleborus "Pine Knot Select"From Wikipedia, “Commonly known as hellebores, the Eurasian genus Helleborus consists of approximately 20 species of herbaceous or evergreen perennial flowering plants in the family Ranunculaceae, within which it gave its name to the tribe of Helleboreae”.  Ha. I find the book by the Tyler’s to be considerably more engaging, and a lot more detailed.  I am happy to say that Dick Tyler took the time and effort to give David a comprehensive tour of his nursery. If you are not near enough to Detroit Garden Works to shop his plants, he does ship. This is the last weekend of his hellebore festival, but he grows many thousands of plants. Just one of the many in our collection is pictured above in a photograph of Rob’s. For further information, check out their website.  Pine Knot Farms hellebores

Though we purchase hellebores from a number of different growers from all over the US, I was especially interested in Dick Tyler’s plants for a good reason.  Many of his strains of hellebores have helleborus hybridus as a prominent parent. Helleborus hybridus is in and of itself a plant of complex heritage. This is a major factor in its hardiness. They  are commonly known as Lenten roses, which means they are spring blooming. The blooming shoots of my hellebores emerge from the ground in late March, and will begin to flower in April.  As our spring weather is usually very cool, they are gloriously in bloom for quite some time. The flower itself is quite inconspicuous..  What appear to be petals are actually a modified calyx. Those petal-like structures will eventually turn green, and will persist on the plants for months.

The Christmas rose, or helleborus niger, is a winter blooming perennial.  Winter blooming plants do quite well in mild climates, but have a tough go in Michigan. There are a number of clones which have some measure of parentage from helleborus niger that are able to survive our harsh winter and unpredictable early spring. We are able to buy the hellebore hybrid “Joseph Lemper” in full bloom in December.  Customers who have kept them over the winter and planted them out in the spring report that the bloom stalks will come very early in the spring, but they do manage endure our early spring night temperatures. I prefer helleborus hybridus cultivars for my Michigan garden. I do have some intergeneric hellebore varieties whose bloom stalks began to grow several weeks ago. I have my fingers crossed that they will survive the forecast overnight low tonight of 12 degrees. For this reason, I do not cut off the tattered remains of last years foliage until it appears we will have night temperatures that are more moderate. That old foliage is like a blanket.

So what is one to do with one of our hellebores in full bloom when our night temperatures are so cold?  They are actually quite obliging about a place indoors for a few weeks.  We like to pot them up in a little something that is decorative. The green or black plastic pot that they are grown in will do, but why make do at the end of winter?  Rob potted this hellebore in a basket, and topped it off with some mood moss.  To follow are more pictures of his miniature spring gardens. If you are able to stop in and see them in person, I promise you will be enchanted.

hellebores in pots

See what I mean?

 

Save

March 1

Detroit Garden Works retreats into a semi-closed state from January 15 until the first of March.  During that time we do repairs, repaint, clean, and rearrange. An over simplified outtake on of law of nature we call entropy posits that everything tends to fall apart. Anyone who has ever had a garden, a washing machine or a favorite pair of boots understands how true this is. So every winter we take on a building maintenance project of one sort or another. 10,000 square feet and everything we have in it is a lot to keep clean and in working order. Once that is done, we rearrange every room to include all of the new things for spring that have been coming in since last September. That is an incredibly labor intensive and time consuming job, but by March 1, the shop will have that spring fresh look to it. I know we are just about ready for opening day when Rob is out photographing.

The landscape crews forego the lion’s share of  their winter off to participate in re-imagining the shop for the coming season.  This involves lots of patience moving fragile items, lots of sheer manpower for those incredibly heavy and awkward things, and plenty of attention to detail.  I will confess to asking to move some things around multiple times until I feel the design of it reads right to me. In better than 20 years, I have yet to hear a complaint. At that moment when I am too worried that a direction I have chosen will not work out, Marzela has been known to tell me that that we have it all in hand.

Detroit Garden WorksIt is hard to describe the process by which we turn over a past season to a new one. It is a big fluid situation. Every year, I am surprised by how a small group of people manage to transform the atmosphere of a big space from what was past to the present. The entire process from the patching and painting to the finish runs between 3 and 4 weeks. My job as a designer has a yearly winter project that goes on in my own house.

Detroit Garden Works has been in business going on 21 years. We are in the midsection of the country, 30 miles north of Detroit. That geography may define what plants we are able to grow, but it by no means defines or confines our vision of the garden to the midwest. This means that a gardener who plants herbs in a vintage wood crate is just as likely to find something for their garden as the person who values the clean lines of a contemporary  garden pot. Gardeners are a very diverse lot, and what Rob buys for the shop reflects that.

This group of stone troughs, sinks, and staddle stones that Rob purchased in England this past September are all better than 100 years old, and are covered in lichen colonies that speak to their great age. The large stones with iron rings in the center are cheese stones, that were used to squeeze excess water out of the cheese by virtue of their sheer weight. Though their history is agricultural, their effect in a garden is sculptural.

A collection of English made wood birdhouses in a traditional style are as whimsical as they are utilitarian.

A collection of baskets, chimney stones, wood grape crates, galvanized buckets and steel bird and dog cutout sculptures complete one part of the 2017 collection.

Another room is full of classical antique and vintage urns, benches, tables, sundials, and sculpture.  Any of these garden ornaments would compliment a traditional garden.  It is just as likely that any one of them could organize or define the mood of a garden.

Objects for the garden can set a tone, create a mood, or organize a space. It only takes a gardener who is interested to take their garden to that level. A garden ornament may be dear, or not.  What gives it an aura is the selection and placement of a gardener who who has something else to express about a garden that means much to them.

pussy willow

Of course, our shop would be incomplete without plants.  At this very early stage of thje season, we do have fresh cut pussy willow twigs, both straight and branches.  And a collection of fan willow. The stars of our March season are the hellebores.  By far and away, they are the mainstay of the early spring perennial garden. Our collection this year numbers close to 1500 plants, in various sizes.  We carry named varieties, and a large collection of the justly well known Pine Knot Farms hellebore strains.  How pleased we are to be able to offer these hellebores for the first time.

For those of you too far away to see our collection in person, we can take pictures, and we do ship. And by all means enjoy the following pictures that Rob has taken of individual plants. It is just about impossible for me to pick a favorite. That could account for the fact that I have lots of them in my garden. A hellebore purchased now will be perfectly happy in a light and cool spot until it can be planted outdoors the beginning of April.  This early dose of spring is so welcome. It could be that the best part of the winter landscape is the beginning of the end of winter.

aa

aa

Save

Save

May Days

the spring garden (7)If you are a gardener in my zone, there is nothing quite like the experience of May. The winter lets go reluctantly. Early March was warm and friendly. Late March, April and the first two weeks of May were chilly enough to put on a jacket, and zip it up. When I went to work yesterday morning, the air temperature was 37 degrees. These are personal observations. The dormant trees, shrubs, perennials and bulbs have been responding to physical changes in the temperature and day length in a different way.  Once all of the signs suggest it is time to bud out, leaf out, or emerge from the ground, the plants go for broke. They don’t much respond to daily changes. An apple tree in full bloom has next to no defense against a string of below freezing temperatures. For sheer drama, the spring is hard to beat.

American dogwood It is so hard to believe this is already the 23rd day of May. For 23 days, I have been observing the process of spring.  The hellebores and crocus emerge early.  They are long finished blooming.  The daffodils have had a very long run, given the past month of cold nights. Only a few straggling blooms remain.   The tulips were challenged by the warm and then the cold, and then the May snow-it was not their best year.  The magnolias have already shed most of their flowers. My American dogwoods are in full bloom-how incredibly beautiful they are this spring. All of the evergreens are pushing that lush lime green spring growth that makes my gardening heart beat a little faster.  The azaleas and lily of the valley in my north side garden are blooming in much the same fashion as they have for the past 22 years.

the spring garden (8)The few perennials that I have are growing with abandon.  The lady’s mantle, catmint, and delphiniums are especially robust. That growing with abandon is a good description of the spring season.  I do not have a fancy landscape or garden. It is an ordinary trial and true urban garden. It is shot through with early spring weeds. There are places where the design is less than stellar, or not apparent. Woe the design move that is not visually apparent!  There are more than a few places that need updating. There is no time to think about that now.  The spring is the time to enjoy each and every plant emerging from the strangle hold of winter.

spring garden (23)To my delight, a modest stand of sweet woodruff, and campanula porscharskayana has completely covered the ground. The leafy remains of some old daffodils are grassy good contrast to the plants covering the ground. The weeds in the path – they are growing with abandon too. The obsession with pulling my weeds and cleaning up will come later. I am wholly engaged in watching the plants do what they do.

the spring garden (2)I have only 3 plants of variegated lily of the valley. None of them have particularly increased in size over the past 3 years. This plant has two stalks this year-how great is that? These three plants, growing in spite of being overrun by ivy, may be small, but they are an important part of my experience of spring.

the spring garden (14)The joy of designing is different. It so much more about architecture, flow, and sculpture.  It is much about line, direction, mass, texture, color, and function. Though I am designing for clients, and have done so regularly since the beginning of March, my spring is all about the plants.

the spring garden (13)I live in an urban neighborhood. Some landscapes and gardens are well designed.  Other properties have nothing much that could be attributed to great design, but every one of their plants is growing just the same as mine. If they falter from neglect, that sorry situation will become apparent later. I take several things from this.  Nature has its own independent agenda. And, those gardeners who are more interested in plants than design have my respect. At this moment in the season, I am right with them. Even though the grasses and hardy hibiscus will not be fully grown and in their glory until much later, watching the process by which they broach the spring is every bit as interesting as their flowers.  The spring means good things for every square inch of ground from which a plant might grow.

the spring garden (16)The parrotias are leafing out so fast, the leaves are wilted from the effort.

the spring garden (10)The ferns and hostas are in that gawky adolescent phase.

spring garden (29)The Princeton gold maple leaves are the most shocking shade of chartreuse imaginable.  Later in the summer, that lime green will fade to green.

spring garden (26)Everywhere I look something is growing.

spring garden (16) - CopyA seedling Helleborus argutifolius has taken 4 years to grow to blooming size.  A mild winter means I have had the please of three blooming stalks for over a month now.

spring garden (10) - CopyWhat great May days we are having.

 

 

 

More Reasons To Plant Containers For Spring

Spring flowersPlanting containers for spring is a great idea. To follow are some of my favorites.

spring container plantings

stock and alyssum

favorite spring pots

bok choy in containers

May containers

lavender in a basket

chard and pansies

 spring pots

spring trough

small spring containers

a bucket full of spring flowers

favorite spring pots

baskets and tubs 005

persian queen geranium and lobeliaMy recommendation for containers this 17th of May in Michigan?  Do not be thinking coleus, New Guinea impatiens, begonias, licorice in any of its forms, sweet potato vine, cannas – the list of summer container tropical that do not tolerate cold soil is long. Annual plants that are greenhouse grown for summer containers will not like our cold soil, or the cold air.  Refrain from planting these cold sensitive plants until the soil and the air temperatures warm up. Containers planted with spring and cold tolerant plants deliver every bit of three months, and will happily accompany your spring garden coming on. Choose to be in real time. The choices are many.

spring container in mid MayThe tropical annuals that are greenhouse grown for summer containers are living in a warm world right now. Everything regarding their culture is right as rain.  They have great soil. They have been fertilized. They are growing in a warm environment. Their place on a greenhouse bench is an ideal world. A greenhouse, on a sunny day in March, gets very warm, as in upwards of 80 degrees.  Those sunny days in April push those plants with tropical origins into very active growth.  A greenhouse crop of container plants is usually available for purchase way ahead of predictably warm weather outdoors. The transition from a hot house to your garden can be a huge shock to those plants. If you do not have a glass house to protect annual topical plants from the late spring Michigan weather, focus on what the spring has to offer.

viola potI understand the idea to shop now. Every serious gardener wants to purchase the best from a big collection. I would only suggest that your awesome early picks need to be, at the very least, housed in the garage until the night temperatures are reliably over 50 degrees. It can be heartbreaking, getting ahead of the weather.  At this moment, I am trying to stay focused on all thing spring.