All Hellebores Great and Small

My first exposure to hellebores was likely in the 1970’s. Though gardening consumed every available moment and most of any available cash I had for plants, there were no hellebores in my yard. I could buy five other plants for the money it took to buy one hellebore. My Mom, on the other hand, being much more solvent than I, had an ever expanding collection. At first, I could not understand her fascination with them. Topping out at a foot or 16″ tall, it took 5 years to grow on a decent sized clump. The foliage was certainly attractive, but the flowers left quite a bit to be desired. Enjoying them was a necessarily interactive experience. The flowering stems were lax and thin. To enjoy them, one needed to bend over to half one’s height, pick up the drooping bloom, and turn it skyward. As pictured above, helleborus x hybridus varieties of old provided the gardener an excellent view of the flower’s backsides. The one flower looking at you was a bloom that I cut, and laid face up on the plant. Not that the back wasn’t beautiful, it just did not provide the thrill of a full front view. As in, face to face.

The flowers were about the size of a quarter or half dollar. They were broad and weighty compared to the stem. No wonder the flowers were nodding. Another more compelling reason for their down facing blooms is practical. Upfacing large flowers can suffer damage from rain and rot, that could interfere with the production of seed. The stalk attached to the flower is known as the peduncle. This word itself suggests something robust and strong, but the stems of these hellebore flowers could not have held a flower in the upright position. It always amused my Mom when I would lie down on the ground next to one of her plants, and try to peer up at the flowers. The colors of the flowers were equally as unsatisfying. The thin petals of the white flowered strains were a dirty white, most likely due to their translucence. The reds were overlaid with green, and the pinks were anemic.

My Mom, however, was delighted with all of them. In retrospect, I attribute that to her taste, experience and sophistication in regards to garden plants. I had none of that going for me, in my 20’s. She thought her hellebores possessed a quiet and diminutive beauty. She organized an entire garden around them, and that moment when their blooming would kick off the spring season. There is something to be said for old fashioned flowers, whose size, stature, substance and color has not been tinkered with by a breeder. There are those who prefer the old fashioned feverfew to their button style double counterparts. Single flowered hollyhocks are so beautiful. The double flowered varieties look alarmingly like tissue papers suitable for a parade float.

The irregularly blushing coloration of this Royal Heritage strain hellebore flower is charming, not arresting. I was lucky to have a single flower, by virtue of the support provided by the flower bud below it, face out. Otherwise, I would have no idea what the flowers look like. What a shy group this is!

This rose pink seed grown hellebore from the same strain has small rather pointed petals that do not overlap so much. This particular plant has more side facing flowers than nodders, so it is easier to enjoy.

This is one of my favorites from this old fashioned group. I picked the flower, and set it on the ground to photograph it. This is a good photograph for identifying the flower parts. What appear to be pink petals are actually modified petals known as sepals. Most flowers drop their petals one they are fertilized. But these pink sepals will age to green, and persist on the plant for many weeks. A group of sepals form a calyx, the purpose of which is to protect the flower, and its reproductive parts. The actual flower is comprised of short petals that have rolled up, closed, and formed tubes, or nectaries. In this picture, the nectaries are those green crescent shaped forms that encircle all the reproductive parts. The stamens, or male reproductive parts, have anthers at the top, which hold the pollen. They appear as cream white dots in the above picture. The female reproductive parts, the pointy shaped carpels, have not grown out yet. When they do, they will grow and enlarge into what will become the seeds. The sex lives of plants is complex and fascinating-and requires the assistance a third disinterested party, as in insects, wind, or bees.

The newer cultivars of hellebores are quite astonishing.  I still remember the first time I saw a yellow flowered hellebore. I could hardly believe it was real. The above pictured hellebore from the Spring Promise series is called Sally.  It is a robust grower. As many flowers face out to the side as face down. Outfacing flowers are still able to shed rain water, limiting rot in the center of the flower. More flowers than not have 7 sepals, as opposed to the old fashioned 5. There is a good bit of overlap to the sepals, resulting in color that is richer and more brilliant.

The size of the flowers is considerable larger than those on my older hybrids. 15 flowers of this size gives the plant the impact of a small shrub.

Also a member of the “Spring Promise” series is this named variety, Connie. The white sepals have plenty of substance, meaning they are thick enough to read bright white. The spots are a striking visual plus. I am sure there is every bit of 150 stamens on this flower. There are so many, the nectaries are almost completely obscured. It has an exotic, rather than charming appearance.

From the hybridizing efforts of Marietta Byrnes, her “Winter Jewels” strain known as Jade Star” features green flowers with maroon red markings and picotee edging. The original plants in her strain have large areas of plum and wine red over the green, but seedlings can vary considerably from the original.

This is another version of Jade Star. Since hellebores from a strain do not come true to seed, it is best to pick them in flower so you know exactly what you will get. That said, I like every version of this moody colored hellebore strain I have seen.

The double flowered hellebores are indeed showstopping. This particular plant is from the helleborus x hybridus Winter Dreams series “Elegance White”. In all the years I have had it, it has increased only modestly. But as reluctant as it is to put on weight, it is breathtaking, and well worth the wait.

This double pink hellebore is also from the Spring Promise series, and is called “Frilly Kitty”. 7 years post planting, it is spectacular in size and bloom this year. Hellebores of any genetic background increase slowly, so the cost of good sized plants is considerable.  This cultivar is vigorous and healthy, and gets no care from me besides supplemental water when it is dry. This is breathtaking example of what modern hybridizing has achieved.  Is it better? I like having a range of cultivars both great and small.

I cannot remember your name, but I am happy to be hosting you in my garden.

Flowers For A Wedding

When I was young, I did a fair number of weddings. The cut flower part, that is. It is a job for a young person. It is a do it right and do it now  situation.  Bridal floral work come in all sizes and shapes, but all of it comes with a substantial dose of angst and anxiety. There is a deadline. Despite the best care, cut flowers can wilt and go down at the most inopportune moment. Every florist has opened a box of roses of a color other than what they ordered. Floral work is not especially conducive to learning on the job. It is physically demanding work. Moving and carrying buckets and vases full of water and cut flowers takes strength. Arranging flowers has its creative and romantic aspect, but there is a lot of just plain hard work. That backache has to be from standing and holding flowers aloft for hours at a time. Most of that work has to be done last minute. This is all by way of saying I am reluctant to take on a wedding now. But this was a client I have known for years. She lost her beloved to a lengthy, terrible, and cruel illness. Many years later and just a few months ago, she came in to say she had met someone she planned to marry, and would I do the flowers? I met with her at the venue of both the wedding and reception, and tried to dissuade her. I made several suggestions about where she might find a good florist. She wasn’t having that. She wanted me to do the flowers, would I?  Her only request was for hydrangeas. And that she would leave the rest of it up to me. How could I not say yes?

I ordered in a selection of flowers that I thought would be beautiful weeks ahead of time. I wanted to show her my selections, and I wanted to make a test run.  Hydrangeas are notorious for wilting soon after they are cut. I ordered the hydrangea “Florists White”. This cultivar is grown for the cut flower trade, as it holds better than most in a vase. 100 stems of white hydrangeas does not seem like that many, but each one had a water bag on the stem and an acetate hat that needed removal. Each stem got a fresh cut, and an immediate immersion in a bucket of clean lukewarm water. The flowers and leaves were sprayed with AquaFinish Clear – which hydrates and seals moisture in to both flowers and foliage. One of the miracle products of modern floristry. I could have skipped that step, but I would have needed to order more flowers. The flowers then have to sit, untouched, until they dry. Only then can they be placed in a floral cooler. This prep work is known as conditioning. I like to condition them overnight before I arrange them.  Lots of work is required to get cut flowers ready to arrange. Amni majus “Green Mist” was a wild card, but the airy texture of the leaves and flowers would be a great addition to the flower selections. As much as I love the reference to the late summer garden, it was a worry if they would hold. So I ordered extra bunches. The mini calla lilies would provide great curves and mass, and were a favorite of my client.

Of course I ordered in white lisianthus. This long stemmed multiflowered cut stem is the best antidote to wedding florist worry that I know of. The large flowers stay fresh for days. They are happy out of water for better than the duration of a wedding. The petals survive anxious handling. The buds are a gorgeous greenish color. They are a beautiful foil for the open flowers. The long stems make them suitably versatile for both tall and compact arrangements.

My client thought a wedding bouquet for her was not necessary. I thought differently. Once she told me her dress was olive green, I ordered in a clutch of green and white slipper orchids. I would capture these 25 stems with some olive green silk ribbon. As delicate as they are, they all held up perfectly in water. The bouquet would be kept in water until the last second. She had but to pat the stems dry, and go. I hoped that when it came time, this simple arrangement would appeal to her enough to carry them. At least she would have the option.

Weddings ask for flower arrangements here and there, but garlands can do a great job of knitting all of the individual pieces together. There were a number of places the garland would look great. Though baby’s breath is a traditional flower, en mass it can have a fresh and contemporary look. I bought in 4 kinds of baby’s breath garland, and tested their width, density and holding power. I ordered in the best quality of these garlands, and kept my fingers crossed. They arrived 2 days before the wedding, at Sunne’s insistence. If FedEx failed to show on Thursday, a Friday delivery would be in time for the Saturday wedding. We opened the plastic, and let the garlands air out. A local florist agreed to let me park these garlands in their cooler until I needed them on Saturday.

On Friday I did all of the 14 arrangements save two. As much as I like everything done before an installation, it would be so much easier to arrange the hydrangeas on site, and put them in place.

The packing up, transport, and installation is the second part of the job.  They boxed all of the arrangements, with an eye to protecting all of the petals. They laid the baby’s breath garlands flat on the truck shelves, as they had been stored rolled up. This is a very low tech delivery system perfect for a once in a great while florist. Three of my staff did the packing, driving, placing, tying, fluffing and cleanup. Most of my work had been done the previous two days.

Three tables got moved outdoors at the last minute. Cut flowers arranged in water can handle this sunny exterior location.  I like to arrange flowers in water as much as possible.

The garland needed a good shaking, and a little fluffing, once it was in place. The lisianthus on the mantle were kept in water until it was time for them to be added to the garland.

This was a small wedding – a perfect size for having the time to attend to all the details.

The wedding took place outdoors, between this pair of pillars.


The pillars needed to look dressed up from both sides.

a simple arrangement for the dessert table

I did hear from my client about the flowers this morning. She thanked me for all, and for insisting she have a bouquet. She thought it was beautiful and it was perfect with her dress. Happiest of all about this.

August

Did I spend weeks designing and specifying plant material for the shop garden this past February? No, absolutely not. I rarely think about the shop plantings until our work for clients is coming to a close. That means that I scout what seasonal plant material is still available in late June or early July. I actually don’t think it matters that much what we plant. What matters is that we plant. I am a fan of any person who plants. And doubly so for those who plant and plant again. I have no need to weigh in about what is good to plant. Anyone who plants trees, vegetables, perennials, shrubs or season plants in any configuration or design – I thank you and respect you for planting.  Planting is work, but it is entertaining and satisfying work. Making something grow is a good use of time in every sense of the phrase.

You might be aghast that the shop seasonal garden design and installation hinges on the left overs at those greenhouses where we shop, but I am used to this arrangement. I do not mind in the least bit being last in line. I relish the challenge. Any skilled designer should be able to make sense of an impromptu collection of plants they never expected to put together. Surprise is a vastly underrated design element. Surprise without angst, that is. I can always tell if a seasonal planting has been thrown together in a panic at the last minute. Last minute panic usually has that aura.  But last minute does not necessarily imply a lack of design. Designing from a very limited palette of plants available in equally limited numbers is my idea of a good time. Of course some outcomes are better or more interesting than others.

What is the most important factor in a beautiful planting? Well grown and maintained plants have to be at the top of that list. Some plants are not so much to my taste, but any well grown plant has a beauty that is undeniable. It takes effort not to admire a well grown and mature stand of shasta daisies. It is easy to pass over a planting that has had haphazard care, no matter how interesting and extraordinary the plants. The care and maintenance, as in on time watering, grooming, feeding, deadheading, dividing and weeding, is key to a beautiful planting. The window boxes pictured above get a good deal of attention over the summer. As we are in love and in business over the garden, I insist that we take great care of our plantings. The star of our show in the window boxes is a new Proven Winners angelonia known as “Steel Blue”. My grower got a number of cuttings in late, and when we were ready to plant they were looking extraordinarily good.

I am very impressed by its performance. They grow tall on sturdy stems, and they seem to handle hot and humid weather without skipping a beat. That pale carmine color is beautiful. That color so echoes the striking color of bordeaux petunias. Summer snapdragon-what a charming common name for this seasonal plant. They relish the heat, and they bloom profusely. They look especially good paired with nicotiana “Purple Perfume”, which is an all-America selection. An All America selection? Look to this designation for plants that are likely to perform beautifully throughout our summer season. The All America designation is not awarded to many. It is conferred upon plants that thrive. Lime nicotiana and creeping jenny is companionable with almost any color scheme. Green is a neutral color in the garden.

This yellow and carmine purple scheme looks great on a sunny day.

This cream yellow and lavender bicolor verbena named Limoncello tells the story of our pale yellow and purple color scheme. It is a new plant for us.

The petunias further represent the surprise combination of colors thematic to the summer planting at the shop. The color contrast is soft, and engaging. Our grower’s good supply of petunias played a substantial role in the design.

Four pots outside the front door of my office are planted with Limelight hydrangeas on standard. Those creamy and greenish white hydrangea flowers coming in to bloom are the star of the show. One pair is under planted with yellow petunias and lime licorice. The pots are large enough to permit more frequent watering the hydrangeas.

The planting on the roof is just starting to come in to is own. All of those pale yellow supporting plants? Pale yellow marigolds. Splashes of yellow cannas. The coleus “Wasabi” is planted in the back row, as it gets quite tall. It is amenable to being grown in full sun, as long as it gets sufficient water. The color is a sunny yellow – quite different than its lime green color in shady spots. Lime licorice, bordeaux and misty lilac wave petunias round out the planting. The roof boxes have automatic irrigation, as getting up there in person requires a very large and heavy extension ladder. That said, either Chelsea or Karen go up there twice a week to check on everything.  Yes, we plant. Every chance we get.

The shop garden in August.

The Summer Container Plantings

The demand for landscape design and installation has been one after the other this spring.  I am sure you can tell, given how few and far between my posts have been of late. Our persistently chilly weather has given way to some gardening friendly weather. Suddenly, the summer container planting season is here, and my board is chock full of projects that will need doing beautifully, and with dispatch. The summer plantings begin later in May, and finish up in late June.  Late June? The spring plantings are just beginning to come in to their own now. Clients with spring plantings are not in a rush to plant seasonal tropicals. Given that tropical plants dislike cold temperatures, and hate cold soil, a spring planting can stave off that urge to plant summer containers too early.
Of special interest to me is the unique role played by containers in the landscape. No news here,should you be familiar with Detroit Garden Works. For 23 years now, the shop has been a premier source for great ornament for the garden.  I am happy to say that our reputation in recent years has become a a national phenomenon. Jackie deals with clients all over the country, and manages a steady stream of shipments going out. The shop website is good, and easy to navigate. Jenny keeps it fresh and lively.

Of course the lion’s share of our focus is on containers of every conceivable period and style. Vintage dolly tubs and new locust wood casks belted with galvanized steel rub elbows with a select collection of European and American antique urns. Of course the choice of a container is a significant factor in container planting. It is as much an important part of the container arrangement as the plants. That empty container represents the opportunity to throw a party in celebration of summer. The limited square footage imposed by the edges of a container means the design idea has to be simple. And it has to be visually strong.The plants need to be companionable, or at least tolerant of one another. Container plantings at war with nature make me uneasy. Given the almost limitless number of plants that can thrive in a container, it would take several gardening lifetimes to even make a dent in all of the possibilities.

A container planting matures in but a few months. What a pleasure to be able to watch that process. Mercifully, it all comes to an end with a hard frost. One can abandon a scheme that disappointed. Or explore a new idea come the new season. A collection of containers is a visual diary of what is on a gardener’s mind at that moment. A landscape and garden involves a long term commitment. There is strategy and planning involved. Decisions that are made one year are not so easy to change years later. An old tree that succumbs to an illness or bugs can make for chaos in the garden below. Growing a landscape on can feel like a full time job. The blooming of the double bloodroot, dogwoods, lilacs and peonies are ephemeral, but the gardener gets to enjoy them year after year, barring a disaster. A collection of containers set within that landscape keeps the garden dialogue fresh and interesting.

Containers do not need to be large to be good. I still like this planting, 10 years after the fact. I like the color of the gold marjoram complements the color of the glaze. The lavender star trailing verbena is a lively contrast to the yellow petunias.  The overall shape is relaxed, and proportional to the container.  Small containers ask for small growing plants.

Hot sunny places are the perfect location for seasonal plants. The profuse bloom on these petunias and mandevillea speaks to those conditions. Seasonal tropical plants are a way to have flowers every day all season long. The plastic liner in this wicker basket helps to keep the wicker from deteriorating from constant exposure to moisture. And that plastic means a basket this size will not require watering every day in the heat of the summer.

Double white petunias are leggy, and those legs are not so attractive. Pairing them with euphorbia Diamond Frost disguises that unfortunate trait, and holds up those heavy double flower heads. The datura  provides a contrasting texture both in leaf and flower.

This wooden trough features a large collection of different plants, all arranged in a very informal way.  Insouciant in feeling, this.

Any container planting can be endowed with a contemporary feeling-the design plays a major role in that.

Lush and lavish by summer’s end speaks to months of consistent maintenance. For those whose life means picking up a hose comes last, an irrigation contractor can install watering lines that can buy you some time. If the need for low maintenance is a deterrent to planting, many tropical plants don’t need dead heading, staking or frequent water. A clear understanding of what kind of gardener you are can inform the plant selection process. The big idea is to enjoy the process as much as the results.

 

I planted trees, shrubs and perennials in my own pots last year. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed that. What will I do this year? I do not have a clue, yet.