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The Importance of Fall Planting and What to Plant Now.

15 Sep

As summer blooms start to wind down and the days gradually get shorter, many gardeners tend to step back from their gardens. But actually fall is one of the very best times to be active and planting in the garden. Perennials, be they shrubs or smaller plants, need a bit of time to get their roots firmly established before they fashion a new growth spurt. Getting shrubs, other perennials and early blooming CA native annuals started in the fall offers several advantages. Most importantly, the cooler weather and winter rains provide the perfect conditions for them to get established. Not only will that lead to more successful blooming in the spring or summer but it will often mean that they will bloom earlier than if planted in early spring.

Planting shrubs or other larger perennials in the fall also helps you with your garden layout. Once these ‘foundation’ plants are situated, it is easier, come spring, to plant smaller perennials or annuals in coordination with these shrubs. Fall is also an excellent time to add bark mulch to your planting beds, be that to established plots or to newly planted beds. This mulch will limit the growth of weeds, help to retain moisture and for frost tender shrubs, help to insulate the roots. We can roughly divide fall flower planting into 5 categories – shrubs for sun; shrubs for shade; grasses; ground covers and vines. I’ll give examples of each below.

Shrubs for Sun

There are a great many sun-loving shrubs that benefit from being planted in the fall. Buddlejas are one of my favorites. Known as butterfly bushes, they produce 10-14” long cones densely packed with tiny nectar-rich flowers. You can find four fabulous varieties at Annie’s. These include the compact ‘Ellen’s Blue’ and ‘Hot Raspberry’. These 3-4 high and wide shrubs attract an endless parade of bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, with the former displaying purplish-violet flowers and the latter showcasing vivid magenta blooms.

Davidii ‘White Profusion’ is a full-size bush, 6-8′ H & W. The flowers are a pure white, making this plant a perfect addition to a Moon (white) Garden.

Three other shrubs benefit from being planted in the fall. California lilac (Ceanothus) can be a bit slow to establish so starting this California native evergreen in the fall has its benefits. You’ll find nearly a dozen varieties at Annie’s, with flower colors ranging from the palest lavender (‘Gloire de Versailles’) all the way to vivid purples (Ceanothus ‘Julia Phelps’ or ‘Dark Star’). At home in sun or light shade, these Ceanothus are great foundation shrubs.

If pretty foliage is your goal, Chinese Fringe Flower (Loropetalum chinense ‘Plum Delight’) is a great way to add rich burgundy tones to your garden. Reaching 4′ high and spreading to 7′ wide, this durable evergreen produces unique, pink finger-like flowers in the late spring.

If on the other hand it’s flowers, and in particular exceptionally pretty blue flowers, are your thing, Blue Glory Bower (Clerodendrum ugandense) may be just the ticket for adding something unique to your garden. Sporting the palest blue butterfly-shaped flowers, each with a central vivid blue petal, this African native is quick to establish and equally fast to bloom. Easily reaching 7′ tall, with arching branches, it is a standout in any garden.

You can plant it as decorative meadow grass or use it next to a pond, since it likes some moisture. Where this Carex’s color is subtle, Orange New Zealand Sedge displays vivid coppery-orange foliage in the colder winter months. That color is best seen when this 2′ high grass is planted in sun but even in some shade, it is a great way to add contrasting foliage color to the greens and creams around it.

Shrubs for Shade

Two colorful shrubs for shade lead this group. We have available two species of Angel’s Trumpet (Brugmansia) – the slender golden trumpets of B. sanguinea ‘Inca Princess’ and the fatter, more classic bells of the white blooming B. ‘Wedding Bells.’ The latter’s blooms are an amazing 7” in diameter, with glossy yellow ribs. ‘Inca Priness’ loads up with 7” long cheerful golden blooms and when in full bloom, puts on a dazzling show.

Meanwhile, two white-blooming Hydrangeas offer part sun delights. H. arborescens ‘Annabelle’ produces huge heads (8-12” across!) of pure white flowers in spring. 4’x4′ mature plants are so prolific, you barely see the green foliage.

Dwarf Oakleaf Hydrangea (H. quercifolia ‘Pee Wee’) gets to a similar size, with panicles of alabaster white flowers, offset by highly attractive, oak-shaped mint green leaves. Even when not in bloom, this hydrangea is a standout for a shady to part sun location.

Two outstanding shrubs for shade offer enticing scents. Heliotropium arborescens and H. arborescens ‘Alba’ each produce clusters of heady, vanilla-scented flowers, the former with purple and white flowers and the latter with all white flowers. Smaller shrubs, they each top out at 3’x3′.

Meanwhile, Mock Orange (Philadelphus ‘Belle Etoile’) offers clusters of pure white flowers that smell intoxicatingly of ripe oranges!

Grasses

Fall is an excellent time to start ornamental grasses. Pink Muhly grass sounds like an odd common name but Muhlenbergia capillaris is one the showiest grasses you will ever grow.

Its calling card is its vivid pink seedheads, which completely smother the plant in late summer. Forming an upright 3’x3′ mound of narrow, brownish-green leaves before its flowering, this drought tolerant, durable grass is also a valuable source of seed for local songbirds.

Two other Muhlies are worth exploring – the southwest native M. dubia and M. reverchonii ‘Undaunted.’ The latter features reddish-mauve seedheads and is likewise cold hardy, very drought tolerant and long-lived.

And how about growing the state grass of California?! That would be Purple Needlegrass (Stipa pulchra). Widespread, it forms 18” high clumps whose seedheads start out purple then age to a silvery color. Nodding Needle grass (Stipa cernua) is another durable native that reaches 2′ tall and produces unique ‘bending’ seedheads.

For great foliage color, there’s no beating New Zealand Wind Grass (Stipa arundinacea). Much sought after by west coast gardeners for its golden-ginger blades, it reaches 3-4′ in height. It looks fabulous when massed and equally showy when featured in a container. A real statement plant!

Vines

Vines occupy a particular place in a fall planting scheme as many actually bloom in the autumn. That shouldn’t preclude you from planting them now and one of my favorites is Passion Flower vine (Passiflora). Whether it is an edible type (P. edulis “Frederick’) or one of many ornamentals, this vine produces some of the most unique and colorful flowers in the floral kingdom.

Annie’s selections divide themselves roughly into two groups – those with pronounced filaments (P. actinia, P. ‘Blue Horizon’ and P. loefgrenii x caerulea) and those whose parentage includes P. manicata (‘Susan Brigham’ and ‘Oaklandii’) or P. parritae (‘Cocktail Orange’ andMission Dolores’).The latter passifloras showcase large orange, coral or red flowers, with few or no filaments. Whichever you choose, the flowers are bold, eye-catching and known to attract butterflies.

Several other vines offer their own treats, be that the fragrant flowers of Pink Jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum ‘Pepita’), the vivid purple flowers of Clematis ‘Polish Spirit’ or the blazing red fall foliage of Roger’s Red grape (Vitis californica x vinifera ‘Roger’s Red).

Ground Covers

While ground covers are often overlooked when it comes to fall planting, they too can benefit from a head start. African daisies (Osteospermum) are a great example, getting a head start on spring blooming when planted in the fall. We have 3 colorful varieties, ‘3D Double Purple’, ‘Compact White’ and ‘Zion Copper Amethyst.’ The 3D Double Purple is noteworthy for its flowers not closing at night, as is the case with most Osteos.

Our California native Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium) particularly benefits from a fall planting, leading to not only an earlier flowering but a more robust one as well. S. hybrid ‘Devon Skies’ not only flaunts the bluest flowers but some of the largest ones in the genus. S. bellum ‘North Coast’ has slightly smaller and more purple blooms while S. californicum offers cheerful yellow flowers.

Lastly, the curiously named Golden Pennywort (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’) is a fabulous ground cover that can either spread out on level ground or cascade over a low wall. It benefits from a bit of shade and even though it loses a few leaves in winter, it fills out a gloriously gold come spring.

To Conclude

“The beauty of planting shrubs and other perennials in the fall is that you are rewarded with its benefits no matter what climate you live in, which particular plants you add or the plants being of a large size or small. So, time to get out that shovel and get going!”

Availability

Just so everyone knows, some of the Annie’s Annuals plants mentioned here might not be available on the week that you’re reading this blog article. Some of the plant varieties discussed are only available in our retail nursery in Richmond CA. This is generally due to us only being able to grow small crops or the fact that the particular plant does not ship well. A quick look at that plant’s page will let you know if it’s available. If not, just click the Add to Wishlist button and we’ll notify you when that plant is ready to take home.

NATIVES FOR THE NEW YEAR!

12 Jan

Native Shrubs

It is quite natural when thinking about California native plants to picture the great wealth of native annuals that populate garden center racks in spring. Blue flowering favorites such as Baby Blue Eyes, Desert Bluebells and Blue Thimble flower, cheerful yellows that include Tidy Tips, Meadow Foam and Cream Cups, as well as the great variety of pink Clarkias are always on our ‘Must Have’ list come spring.

Native perennials on the other hand have the great advantage of returning year after year, with many of them evergreen in our mild Bay Area climate. A great many of these selections are shrubs and that wealth covers a range of sizes, leaf appearance and of course flowers. Though we have yet to reach the bounty of spring selections, there are quite a few beautiful yet durable shrubs to take home this time of year.

The Value of Natives

California native shrubs have much to offer the local gardener. First off and perhaps most importantly, they are adapted to our local climate. For most of us, that involves wet winters but a long and dry summer season. Most are very drought tolerant and able to withstand swings in temperature. Equally valuable, natives attract local wildlife of all kinds. The flowers attract an array of local pollinators, such as native bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Many of these shrubs produce seed that is coveted by local songbirds, giving them valuable nutrition in the late fall and early winter. Lastly, many of these shrubs provide cover for small scurrying creatures, a safe place from predators.

A Good Time to Plant

Fall and early winter is an excellent time to plant shrubs. This ‘head start’ helps them get established by the time spring rolls around. The natural rains help young roots to strengthen and deepen, starting them on the path to being drought tolerant and durable.

Here then are nine native shrubs to consider adding to your garden this time of year.

Salvias

Native sages are one of the best and easiest ways to add long lasting beauty to your garden. One of the sturdiest is Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii). I especially like the variety ‘Winifred Gilman’. It is notable for the outstanding color of its flowers – stacking whorls of soft lavender to deeper purple hues – and for the earthy fragrance of its grayish-green foliage. Blooming from June all the way to late fall, the flowers on this musk sage are a magnet for bees and hummingbirds. It forms a sturdy 3’x3′ bush and is one of the most drought tolerant of all salvias. So much so that when I’ve spotted them in abandoned lots, they are still prospering. Plus, deer don’t like the smell so leave them alone. Just give it lots of sun and make sure the soil drains well. Hardy to 10 degrees F.

Another Cleveland sage relative, this one a cross between Salvia clevelandii and Salvia leucophylla, is Salvia ‘Pozo Blue’. Introduced by Las Pilitas Nursery, it combines all the enviable attributes of Cleveland sage but can handle somewhat wet conditions a bit better. It fills out to a sturdy 4’x4′ and produces light purple flowers in the same stacking whorls as Cleveland sage. This variety is most notable for being one of the great butterfly plants found anywhere. Seems our pollinator friends just can’t get enough of the nectar rich flowers! Hardy to 10 degrees F.

Another outstanding and distinctive Salvia selection is Salvia apiana, known as White sage. One of the most aromatic of all sages, it is the one chosen for use as as smudge sticks (burned in rituals to cleanse the space). Attractive, silvery white, lance-shaped leaves densely cloth  2-5’ tall stems. Very showy, arching 3’ flower spikes cover the shrub in Spring. Bees and hummingbirds love the small, nectar-rich blooms. Perfect for a ‘white garden,’ this species loves the heat and can prosper with very little water. A medicinal staple, a tea made from the leaves helps with a cold or congestion.

Love this sage but want something a bit smaller? Salvia apiana ‘Compacta’ offers all the charms of the regular white sage but matures at only 2.5-3′ tall and wide. Both plants are evergreen, providing a year round anchor for any sunny location. Both species are hardy to 10 degrees F.

More Native Shrubs

Sometimes a native shrub is the perfect choice for a problem area. Coyote Bush (Baccharis pilularis ‘Pigeon Point’) is a sturdy native that offers a variety of uses. It quickly fills out to 1-3′ high and 6-8′ wide, forming a high-ish ground cover. Given its dense foliage and tenacious roots, it is ideal for slope stabilization. It can prosper in a great variety of soils,  from clay to sand, as well as in dry or wet soils. This male selection avoids the seedy fall look of female varieties and looks good year round. Amazingly versatile, it can be kept short enough to mow as a lawn alternative or sheared as a topiary. It  is one of our very best habitat plants, providing cover for birds, yet is resistant to deer. Hardy to 0 degrees F.

Speaking of valuable low-growing natives, Ceanothus thyrsiflorus var. griseus ‘Yankee Point’ is an excellent choice as a high ground cover or for adding beauty and purpose to a neglected area. This California lilac forms a dense evergreen shrub 2-3′ high and over time can spread to 10′ across. Glossy evergreen foliage yields to a blizzard of lavender-colored flowers in late winter and spring. These flowers attract a great many local bees and butterflies, while the seeds that form in the fall provide a source of nutrition for songbirds. This variety tolerates more water than some California lilacs, though good drainage is a plus. Tough enough to thrive under oaks, it has found to have even survived fires in the wild. Deer resistant. Hardy to 10 degrees F.

Though most California lilacs take a shrub form, the lovely Ceanothus hybrid ‘Ray Hartman’ grows into a handsome 15’x15′ tree. It is one of the faster growing Ceanothus, is amazingly drought tolerant, has some of the bluest flowers of all California lilacs and it attracts bees, butterflies and birds. Adding to that, it is heat tolerant, long-lived and the flowers exude a pleasing fragrance. Which is all to say, this is the perfect small tree for a sunny or part shade location. Hardy to 15 degrees F.

Colorful Lupines

Lupines take many forms but there are two California natives that take a shrub form. Yellow Coastal Bush Lupine (Lupinus arboreus) forms an impressive 4’x4′ mound of dense foliage arising from a stout trunk and then, come late spring, a multitude of branchlets are topped with 6-8” high spikes of deliciously scented, bright yellow blooms. These pea-shaped flowers attract a wide variety of bees and butterflies. Surprisingly tolerant of drought and neglect, it’s an excellent choice for dry gardens, parking strips and hillsides. Just give it good drainage and cut back to 3’x3’ in the late fall to promote a nice bushy shape. An excellent choice for a seemingly endless number of cut flowers! Deer resistant. Hardy to 0 degrees F.

If that sounds delightful to you but you prefer purple flowers to yellow, the Blue Bush Lupine (Lupinus propinquus) forms similar 6-8” spikes, its pinkish-lavender buds opening to pale lilac flowers. The older flowers at the bottom of each spike then age to almost white. Lovely! It likewise prefers well-drained soil and not much summer water. Its April through July flowers are also a must-see destination for bees and butterflies. Likewise deer resistant and a potentially long-lived plant, you may find baby plants sprouting up the following year! Hardy to 0 degrees F.

Availability

Just so everyone knows, some of the Annie’s Annual plants mentioned here might not be available on the week that you’re reading this blog article. A quick look at that plant’s page will let you know if it’s available. If not, just click the Add to Wishlist button and we’ll notify you when that plant is ready to take home.

Think Like a Plant – Resisting Drought with Kate Frey!

21 Sep

By Kate Frey
Special Contributor

In our summer-dry climate most of us have to water our gardens. The frequency ranges from several times a week in hot inland areas, to once a week in cool coastal areas, or even less frequently if we have planted very drought resistant plants. Plants that require little water are referred to as drought resistant, and gardens that feature them exclusively as xeriscapes. Plants vary greatly in their ability to withstand or evade drought and many from dry climates have developed a number of morphological and physiological strategies to aid in survival. Other factors influencing the drought resistant qualities of each garden depend on plant types, the garden’s location, weather, soil type, depth, exposure, soil organic matter content and mulch.MGPlants take up water through root hairs, most of which are in the top fifteen inches of soil. Plants from desert regions like cacti and succulents often have extensive, shallow, fibrous roots to capture water from light rainfalls. Leaves are reduced to spines and water is stored in swollen leaves and stems. Spines don’t just function as deterrents to predators but serve to break up air currents and minimize transpiration (evaporation of water from plants) across the leaf surface – minimizing water loss.

Spiky Agave leaves help minimize water loss.

Hairs on plant leaves perform the same function as spines to break up air currents and limit water loss across leaves. Some plants have large noticeable hairs such as “Clary Sage”, and others are covered with fine wool like Lamb’s ears, Mulliens like Verbascum olympicum and V. bomyciferum, and French lavender (Lavandula dentata).

Annual plants from summer-dry climates avoid drought by germinating, growing, flowering and setting seed during the rainy season – dying at the end of it. Seed reserves remain dormant until rains allow germination when suitable conditions return. Most California annual wildflowers are in this category and germinate and grow during cool weather when soil is moist, and finish their lifecycles as temperatures warm and the soil dries. Exceptions are the tarweeds (Hemizonia and Madia) that follow this pattern but remain small until spring annuals die, then grow and flower when this competition for space is minimized.

Summer-dormant bulbs like Daffodils and Narcissus evade drought by developing large underground storage units (we call bulbs) during the rainy season to store water and carbohydrates. They weather the dry season in a dormant state. Other examples are our many native bulbs, Freesias, Sparaxis, Ixia, Squill, Tulips, Grape Hyacinth and Crocus. “Naked Ladies” grow abundant foliage during the rainy season that dies in summer. Flower stalks are sent up in summer using the large reserves contained in the huge bulbs.

Some plants have white or silver foliage to reflect light and heat. We often grow them for their strikingly colored foliage. Artemisia, Lambsears, Calocephalus brownii, Santalina, Dusty Miller, Russian Sage, Lavender, some Milkweeds, and Teucrium fruticans have beautiful silver leaves.

Plants like Manzanitas, Olives, many Oaks, Myrtle, Italian Buckthorn, Strawberry Tree, California Buckwheats (Eriogonum sp.) and others have leathery or waxy leaves with the stomata (where respiration and water transpiration occurs) recessed in the bottom of the leaf in deep stomatic crypts. Recessing the stomata in deep crypts limits transpiration. Thick, leathery leaves help reduce water loss.

Other plants have reduced leaf size to minimize water loss. Rosemary, Thyme, Lavender, Olives, Broom, Junipers and Teucrium are examples. These plants may grow slowly due to reduced leaf area for photosynthesis.

Leaves on plants like some Manzanitas turn parallel to the sun to avoid solar interception.

Resinous oils found on the foliage of plants like Sage, Lavender, and Rosemary acts not just to deter animals that eat plants, but these oils evaporate on very hot days and cool plants. These are the resinous odors so apparent to us on warm afternoons.

Some plants drop a portion of their lower leaves as the weather warms. The ground under Madrone trees (Arbutus menziesii) may be littered with dried leaves, though the trees themselves are lush and green. Other plants such as Jerusalem Sage (Phlomis) have juvenile leaves that are shed as the season progresses.

California buckeye (Aesculus californica) and California polypody fern (Polypodium californicum) are drought deciduous and go completely dormant in summer even with regular water.

The Olive tree and many Manzanitas combine the strategies of silver foliage, reduced leaf size, and leathery leaves to resist drought. Lavender plants combine reduced leaf size, silver, and wooly foliage plus resinous oils to resist it. What other examples do you see in your garden?

Med walk

Soil type is a big factor in developing watering schedules. As sandy soils have large pores and high porosity, water moves through these soils quickly and is not retained. Increasing the organic matter content by either incorporating compost and/or mulching with it increases the water holding capacity of sandy soils tremendously. Clay soil particles are tiny and evenly dispersed. These soils have a high water holding capacity, and poor drainage. Incorporating compost and gypsum helps these soils to aggregate so water will penetrate more easily and be held in the soil in beneficial quantities and ratios with air (oxygen), necessary for plant roots and soil micro and macroorganisms. Mulch will also increase porosity in soils over time. Make sure to use compost or composted greenwaste/manures rather than woodchips. Woodchips rob the soil of nitrogen as they break down. Loam soils generally have good water holding capacity, but this is also helped by compost. Compost is a key factor in developing soils that aid in your plants ability to resist drought.

Ch3.H1bi perimeter bed

These themes and much other practical information designed to help you create successful, healthy beautiful gardens is what we are teaching at our new garden school – The American Garden School.

The American Garden School was created to address a growing need in the U.S. for quality garden education. Many of us do not have the time or desire to commit to a formal series of horticulture-based classes at a university, yet wish to gain quality education to better our landscapes, convert our lawns, or develop a kitchen garden.

Our goal is to be the go-to garden school for comprehensive, quality, tested and fun garden education for homeowners, garden enthusiasts, landscape practitioners, school gardens and very small farmers. Our courses are designed to help you generate a successful and beautiful garden, with themes pertinent to the West such as drought tolerance, ecology, sustainable practices, and time saving. We believe in systems, efficiency, technology, science based practices, and most importantly, that a garden should bring you joy.

These intensive courses are a remarkable opportunity to learn practical and tested methods for creating successful gardens.  Two-time Chelsea Flower Show gold medal winner, educator and renowned horticulturist and designer Kate Frey and local landscape manager and designer, Christa Moné, will share their expertise developed over many years in Northern California and internationally. Kate and Christa bring a wealth of information in educating people on how to create gardens that are remarkably beautiful, healthy, productive, creative and efficient to care for.

Upcoming Classes:

THE EDIBLE GARDEN-FALL/WINTER
@ CORNERSTONE SONOMA

SEPTEMBER 28, 2017
9:30AM-12:30PM

This ain’t your grandma’s veggie garden! We want to raise the bar on the concept of how we plan and plant our edible gardens, and show you that they can be just as beautiful as any other- and filled with delicious things to eat all year round!

Whether you like precise rows, or an impressionistic composition of verdant plants, this intensive, practical course will get you on the right track with simple principles and techniques to consistently generate a multitude of healthy, delicious vegetables (and flowers!). Seasonal focus will be fall and winter.

FALL OPEN GARDEN DAY & WORKSHOP
@ KATE FREY’S GARDEN

OCTOBER 7, 2017
HOPLAND,CA

Back by popular demand! Please join us for this great opportunity to see the principles and practices of The American Garden School expressed and demonstrated in Kate and her husband, Ben’s unique experiential and flower-filled garden in scenic Hopland, inland Mendocino county this fall.

Profusely planted, full of flowers, bees, bird song, and rustic structures created from wood Ben has resuscitated, it has many unique seating areas, and places to explore. Visitors call it an instant sanctuary. It is eight years old and is composed of native plants and habitat plants that attract and support a wide variety of insects and birds as well as delighting our senses. There is a vegetable garden, many rustic structures, a hermit’s hut, chicken palace (with the cutest chickens ever), bar, wood library, Swiss Chalet house, and whimsical gateposts. Surprises abound! Bring a lunch!

The Workshop will cover design, site preparation, building health soil, weed control, bees and wildlife in the garden, plant care, and will look at some great plant varieties. It will end with an irrigation system demonstration.

The Open Garden is available for people to wander and enjoy the unique and relaxing spaces of the garden.

PRACTICAL SOILS & IRRIGATION
@ CORNERSTONE SONOMA

OCTOBER 20, 2017
9:30AM-12:30PM

Why do so many plants and gardens fail to thrive despite our best efforts and intentions? Soil health and irrigation are too often overlooked in our garden planning and maintenance, and can feel overwhelming to take on.  Healthy soil creates healthy plants, yet what is healthy soil and how do we create it? Irrigation is essential to any garden or landscape, but how does it all work? Do we till, or can we choose not to? Different plant categories such as vegetables, annuals, perennials, shrubs, and trees each require different approaches to soil development and watering.

Design Intensive
@ CORNERSTONE SONOMA

November 6, 2017
10:00AM-2:30PM

Details will follow soon! Please Check website

Contact us: https://americangardenschool.com/contact/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heck Yeah Hellebores!

13 Oct

By Earl Nickel
Special contributor

We gardeners are always looking for something tough and beautiful for shade. But in the never-ending search for the “latest and greatest” we sometimes lose track of the tried-and-true classics – like beautiful, dependable, shade-loving Hellebores. Fall is an excellent time to plant these long-lived beauties, giving them time to establish for their Winter and Spring bloom season.

helleborus_peppermint_ice_mass

Helleborus ‘Peppermint Ice’

helleborus_peppermint_ice_bloom

Helleborus ‘Peppermint Ice’

Mega-tough and tolerant of neglect, Hellebores can handle quite a bit of shade but they’ll be happy in dappled light up to full morning sun. No need to hide these beauties away in a dark corner – but if a dark corner is what you have, they’ll handle it with aplomb (if fewer flowers). I find that bright, indirect light or a bit of morning or late afternoon sun is ideal for these nearly evergreen perennials.

Infinitely useful, Hellebores shine in a variety of settings. They make great understory plants in a part shade bed, planted around Camellias, Azaleas or smaller conifers. They complement part shade bulbs such as the native Iris douglasiana or late Winter blooming Snowdrops. Massing them makes for a sophisticated and virtually effortless late Winter show.

helleborus_yellow_lady_horiz

Helleborus ‘Yellow Lady’

helleborus_yellow_lady_close

Helleborus ‘Yellow Lady’

Tender, mint green shoots in late December or early January develop into a handsome mound of dark green palmate foliage, followed by the first flower buds. Blooms appear late Winter through Spring – hence their common name “Lenten Roses” – looking for all the world like dew-sparkled jewels when few other plants are up, much less in bloom. Most varieties open into 2-3” five-petaled, saucer-shaped flowers that persist for weeks – making an extended late Winter show. As plants mature, they’ll gradually colonize to fill about a 2’ foot diameter area.

The world of “Lenten Roses” has expanded greatly over the last decade, thanks to breeders who have developed a fabulous selection of colors and forms. In addition to a kaleidoscope of pinks, reds, burgundies, apricots, yellows, whites and even blacks, gardeners can choose from a host of alluringly spotted singles and frilly doubles. Blossoms generally nod, to keep the pollen from getting wet in extreme Winter weather, but some new varieties sport outward facing blooms.

helleborus_onyx_odyssey_hand

Helleborus ‘Onyx Odyssey’

Three of my favorites are the brilliant pure red H. ‘Red Lady,’ looking almost so inviting you want to eat its flowers, and H. ‘Yellow Lady,’ a  shade brightening, vivid yellow orientalis hybrid whose flowers are especially large. And the double forms of ‘Peppermint Ice’ (featuring prominently pink-veined white flowers) and breathtakingly deepest wine-black ‘Onyx Odyssey’ are simply gorgeous.

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Helleborus ‘Red Lady’

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Helleborus ‘Red Lady’

Resistant to both deer and drought, these long-lived perennials are far from a flash in the pan. Once established, they use little water and in milder zones like ours here in the Bay Area, hold on to their foliage well into Fall. I suggest cutting them to the ground in November. This removes the less attractive older leaves, allowing plants to sprout fresh new growth in a month’s time.