Thanks to the Snoqualmie Valley Master Gardeners for this month’s gardening column. There’s nothing like a February blooming perennial to get a yard fan dreaming of spring. For more tips and information visit the master gardeners website.
I remember the first time I saw a hellebore in bloom. It was about 20 years ago during an early February walk through the Winter Garden in the Arboretum. It was a lovely bell-shaped maroon flower blooming under a tree.
Later that year, I found some for sale at Wells Medina nursery. I paid $18 for a one gallon plant; pretty pricey back then. That first hellebore now has many progeny blooming in my shade garden. Later on, I had the privilege to visit the garden of Elfi Rahr in Bellevue, an early pioneer in hellebore breeding.
Hellebores are an evergreen perennial; frost resistant and deer resistant. They like partial to full shade; moist, well-drained, neutral to slightly alkaline, highly organic soil. There are several different species:
- Christmas rose (H. niger) has pure white flowers blooming mid-winter; pink and double-flowered cultivars are also available.
- Corsican hellebore (H. argutifolius) has pale green, cup-shaped flowers and attractive leathery foliage.
- Stinking hellebore (H. foetidus), has drooping clusters of small, pale green, bell-shaped flowers.
My favorite though is the Lenten rose (H. orientalis) and its colorful hybrids (H. x hybridus). They bloom February through March and come in many colors.
Tips for growing Lenten rose Hellebore:
- Fertilize lightly in spring with a slow-release fertilizer
- The older leaves are susceptible to botrytis and will turn black; clip them off in fall or early winter.
- Buds begin to emerge in January so tread carefully when you begin to clean your beds and rake leaves.
- Watch for new little plants growing under the old leaves. You can transplant the babies in spring or let them grow where they want. They naturalize beautifully. Be patient; it takes 3-5 years for a baby hellebore to bloom. Flower color is unpredictable so it’s a nice surprise when they bloom.
Hellebores have a wonderful history of medicinal use and legend. They were used in Russia as an herb for weight loss and several legends say they were used by witches to summon demons. In Greek mythology, Melampus of Pylos used hellebores to save the daughters of the king of Argos from a madness induced by Dionysus, that caused them to run naked through the city, crying, weeping, and screaming. An overdose of medication containing helleborus has been suggested as a possible cause of the death of Alexander the Great.
As I walk through my garden in late January, I gaze lovingly at the emerging flower buds and know they will be in bloom soon. They are my promise of a new season of gardening and growing lovely things.
[Reference: Graham Rice & Elizabeth Strangman, The Gardener’s Guide to Growing Hellebores, David & Charles/Timber Press (1993) ISBN 0-7153-9973-X]
Tips for Online Seed Catalogs
Freezing temperatures, gusty winds and driving rain – there’s no better time to daydream about what your yard and garden might look like once the sun shines longer. While you can plant vegetable, annual and perennial starts in spring once our local nurseries are stocked, this is the time of year to browse through seed catalogs for varieties you won’t in nurseries, and for organic, non-GMO seeds.
For the best success, purchase quality seeds from companies that give you as much information about required growing conditions as possible. With our cool, maritime climate, seeds formulated for cooler growing temperatures and a shorter growing season are best. Here are a few online seed catalogs to review:
- Territorial Seed Company is no doubt the best-known seed company with a huge depth of variety of vegetable seeds and plants, as well as flowers, herbs and fruit. Check out their Growing Guides and Garden Planners as well.
- Renee’s Garden Seed’s website offers several photos for each variety and shows the front of the seed packets – gorgeous watercolor – as well as the back with a huge amount of growing information.
- Uprising Seeds is an 8-year-old company committed to growing open-pollinated, certified organic vegetable and herb seeds in Bellingham. They not only grow seed themselves but act as distributor for about 20 Washington and Oregon seed farms.
- Ed Hume Seeds from the garden celebrity Ed Hume who has been offering his seed line for nearly 40 years, specializes in short season, cool climate gardening.
- Irish Eyes Garden Seeds as you might expect offers over 100 varieties of seed potatoes, however, they also offer a huge variety of vegetable and herb seeds.
[Acknowledgements. Kaye Moreton (Hellebores) and Ann Acton (Seed Catalogs) are master gardener in the WSU Extension Master Gardener Program. Extension programs and employment are available to all without discrimination. Evidence of noncompliance may be reported through your local Extension office.]