Favorite Flora: Hellebore

Hellebore, Lenten rose (Helleborus x hybrida

By Debra Knapke

A bowl of hellebore flowers is a spring tradition in our home.  Hellebore or Lenten rose isn’t really a rose, but it does bloom during and after Lent, and sometimes before.  The nodding flowers are single, double; white to cream to pink to deep dusky purple.  They are dotted, spotted, picoteed, shaded and blushed.

If I had to point to a true workhorse in the garden it would be this group of plants.  I use the term group, because the complex, hybrid cross is made up of at least five different species, one of them being the original Lenten rose: Helleborus orientalis.  Culturally, hellebores are easy to establish and maintain.  They grow well in part sun to shade and will tolerate full sun (6+ hours) if most of that sun is from the east and south.  They bloom for 2-3 months.  You will notice that some flowers are “in seed” while others are just opening.  If you are looking for winter interest, the large, glossy, evergreen leaves offer an alternative to bare soil.  A bonus is that hellebores do not allow light to filter down to those pesky winter weeds that need light to germinate.

Hellebores take two to three years to establish roots that are drought tolerant. Do not let them dry out the first year and watch them the second and third during dry times and water accordingly.  Usually, deer do not eat the leaves, because they are well armed with very sharp serrations, or the flowers which are poisonous.  However, if a deer is hungry, all bets are off.  If you are a lazy or very busy gardener who doesn’t always get to dividing your perennials, hellebores are happy to grow in the same place for years.  I have three-foot-wide plants that have been in the same place for 14 years.  When you do divide them, do so carefully, as they are not fond of excessive root disturbance.

So what’s the downside of this plant?  They do have a tendency to self-seed; a lot.  But, the seedlings are easily raked up and left under the plant to compost back into the soil. Or, thinking about this in another way: you have lots to share.

Guest blog: Jane Rogers on Bloodroot

By Jane Rogers

Bloodroot is one of early spring’s most cherished wildflowers, in part because it’s a sure signal  spring has arrived.  This dazzling white, daisy-like flower pops wide open when the sun comes out, while on cloudy days you’ll notice the petals are closed and the leaf hugs the stem. As bloodroot matures the scalloped leaf makes a handsome groundcover.

When bloodroot is happily sited it spreads and self-seeds which enables me to spread drifts of it along my woodland pathways. Bloodroot will thrive at the edge of a woods or even in full sun if your yard is moist.

If you’d like to add bloodroot to your garden, but if you’re not lucky enough to have a friend who will share a clump, check spring plant sales. When planting, take care not to plant the rhizomes (rootstock) too deeply or heavily mulch or your plant may rot. Bloodroot transplants and divides well in spring or fall. Just slice rhizomes into 3” sections including a bud eye (to plant facing upward). Place pieces horizontally, 1/2″ to 1″ deep, cover lightly with leaf litter and water until established. Those orangish-red rhizomes and all parts of the plant will drip colored juices if it’s cut or broken, so be sure to wear an apron and gloves to avoid stains. Native Americans used bloodroot to paint their faces, weapons, baskets and dye their cloth. It’s fun, though, to paint a broken root across the palm of a child and tell this story.

I hope you’ll enjoy growing, multiplying and conserving the beautiful bloodroot in your own garden. By doing so you can help protect our nation’s native wildflowers for future generations to enjoy.

Thanks to Jane for sharing on Heartland Gardening.  She’s grows, studies and photographs wildflowers in her backyard in Akron, Ohio.  She also lectures and writes on wildflowers and exhibits her award-winning images, most recently in the touring “Three Women in the Woods” exhibit. 

Favorite Flora: Seeds Beautiful Seeds

By Debra Knapke

Warning: This is not one plant, but a group of plants that grace the table and are grown by your own hand.

Now is the time to order and set up a seed planting schedule for those favorite food plants of the summer: veggies!

Seed catalogs are my favorite late January and through March reading material.  You have to drool while reading this description of Black Cherry tomato:  “sweet yet rich and complex… irresistibly delicious” (Tomato Growers Supply Company, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds) and you have to find a place for the precious Pixie cabbage: “early maturing baby variety … dense 5-6” heads with excellent sweet flavor” (Renee’s Seeds)?  The Traveler’s tomato which is sectioned so it can be eaten a piece at a time, must be planted because it is so strange.  The list goes on and on.

Traveler's Tomato

If you are new to the world of seeds, start small.  Pick one or two varieties of your two to three favorite vegetables.  Order from a catalog or purchase from your local garden centers – seeds are arriving at your favorite garden center daily!  Read the packet, take a deep breath and just do it. Those who are old hands at seed starting know the selection of seeds, heirloom and hybrid, just keeps getting better and better.

This year, we are only planting out four varieties of pole beans, four of beets, five of chilies, two of cucs, one of eggplant, nine of greens, two of leeks, two of peas, two of spinach, twelve of tomatoes and one zucchini.

What are you planting?

Favorite Flora: Succulents

Succulent – in the food world it means delectable; luscious.  In the plant world, the same adjectives may come to mind as you gaze on succulents’ richly textured and subtly colored forms. Thick leaves that store water, leathery surfaces that reduce moisture loss and soft, muted colors that reflect light rather absorb it; all are ways that these plants survive a less-than-hospitable environment.

Give succulents good light, allow them to dry out between waterings and fertilize them frugally.  Use them inside, outside, in containers and in the ground.   Their diverse forms grace any sunny garden setting.  For a preview of the season’s succulents, click on the video below.

Favorite Flora: Snowdrops


By Debra Knapke

Snowdrops are usually the first breath of spring in the late winter garden.  The distinctive leaves often emerge through the snow and are quickly followed by the nodding white flowers that are marked with kelly green on the inner petals.  In the riotous spring and summer season, these diminutive bulbs might go unnoticed; in the winter, they are stars.

This has been a winter for the record books.  Snowdrops have been in bud and bloom since the first week of January in my garden.  Usually I say that these early blooming bulbs will grace your garden for 4-6 weeks depending on the weather and the cultivars that you plant.  I’m now counting eight weeks and they are still in their glory.

In the above picture, you can see that the front plants are in bloom while the ones in back have gone to seed.  It is not unusual to have some bulbs bloom later than others.  While you may have started with all of the same cultivar or species, snowdrops will self-seed, and then the fun begins.  You will see variation among the flowers such as different heights; changes in the green accents; different sizes and widely open to closed blooms.  Snowdrops are loved by the gardeners of England and theses variations are cherished.

Snowdrops are poisonous to most animals.  A notable exception is slugs.  Take a close look at the picture and you will see that these flowers have been visited by the land mollusk we love to hate.  In a cold winter, slugs are not an issue; in a warm winter or when snowdrops bloom later in a warm early spring, watch out.

A note about propagation:  When your clumps produce fewer flowers it is time to lift, separate and replant the bulbs.  Do this while they are “in-the-green”.  This is the stage when the blooms have dropped and the seeds are beginning to form.  They will droop initially, but they will recover.

In the language of flowers, snowdrops represent hope and constancy probably because they often emerge in the late winter when we are all pining for spring, and, this year especially, they grace the garden for a long time.

Favorite Flora: Drift Roses

Roses as ground covers? That’s one of the things we saw at the Willoway Nurseries display at the recent CENTS trade show and Ohio State University Short Course in Columbus. Wholesaler Willoway Nurseries highlighted Drift Roses as a tough adaptable rose for gardens and containers. They come in several colors and a few at the show delighted us with fragrance.

Favorite Flora: Shimane Chojuraku (‘Long Life’) Peony

Shimane Chojuraku ('Long Life') peony (Paeonia ‘Shimane Cho Juraku’)

By Debra Knapke

It is fitting to start Favorite Flora and the New Year with the tree peony ‘Long Life’ — a plant that produces flowers of incredible beauty that are short-lived in the garden, but long-lived in our memory. Tree peonies typically bloom in the Midwest in early to mid-May. Mine are often in bloom for Mother’s Day. The flower above was eight inches across and held a place of honor in my dry stream garden for two days.

Wishing you a beautiful and healthy New Year –and a happy, long life.

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