Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Heavenly Hellebores

Hellebores add an exotic touch to the winter garden. Their elegant flowers begin to emerge in late January, and depending on the variety, will continue to bloom into early spring. The three varieties seen most often in Seattle are: the Lenten Rose (Helleborus orientalis), the bear's-foot, aka "stinking" hellebore (H. foetidus) and the Corsican hellebore (H. argutifolius).

Of the three, this one, the Lenten Rose, is usually the earliest to flower in my garden. Depending on the weather, buds start to emerge in mid- to late January. Mine are in full flower now and the blooms will last until the end of February. After the blooms fade, glossy new foliage will appear. Last year's foliage will die down and can be cut away to tidy up the plant. Perhaps the most common flower color for the Lenten Rose is this pink one, but you can find white, cream, greenish, and deep purple in nurseries. It is best to buy plants in bloom to be sure you get the color you want.

Next to bloom, and also in bloom now, is the so-called "stinking" hellebore. It doesn't really stink at all - unless you crush the flowers or foliage. The creamy, greenish-white flowers are much smaller than those of the Lenten Rose and the green-black foliage is more delicate.

The latest bloomer of the three is the Corsican hellebore. The one in my garden is just beginning to show flower buds. This variety has pale green flowers and light green foliage. The leaves have serrated edges and a coarser appearance than either of the other two varieties. The Corsican hellebore also tolerates more heat and direct sunlight than either of the others.

Hellebores are easy to care for. They are shade plants and will bloom even in deep shade. The Corsican hellebore, as noted, will want a little more sun, although not full exposure. The foliage replaces itself every year; simply cut away the old leaves when they look ratty. I have seen aphids on my plants as the blooms are fading, but they don't seem to harm the plant and they tend to disappear quickly.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Taking a Stroll Through the Witt Winter Garden

For me, one of the highlights of the winter season in Seattle is visiting the Joseph A. Witt Winter Garden at the Washington Park Arboretum. We had an unusual stretch of mild weather this past week, so I was able to make my annual visit without dodging raindrops. Here are some photos:
This is the entrance to the garden, lined with red and yellow witch hazels (Hamamelis sp.) in full bloom. I wish I could somehow send you the fragrance of this garden. The air is perfumed with the scents of witch hazels and vanilla plant (Sarcococca sp.)

Here is a close up of the tiny, white, intensely fragrant flowers of Sarcococca confusa.

It might still be winter, but this garden has lots of color and contrast this time of year. Here is a yellow twig dogwood (Cornus stolonifera 'Flaviramea') with a mass planting of black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens') at its feet.

If it's flower color you are craving, here's a winter blooming Rhododendron hybrid. You will also find several Camellia sasanquas in this garden, some with pink flowers, some with white.

There are several varieties of hellebores in this garden, this one is Helleborus foetidus. It is called "stinking" hellebore because the plant leaves and flowers give off an unpleasant smell when crushed. I also saw some pale yellow Helleborus orientalis, or Lenten rose, in full bloom, and others with deep purple blooms about to open.

And here, like strings of pearls, are the elegant catkins of the native silktassel (Garrya elliptica 'Issaquahensis')

Pink cyclamen bloom at the base of a Japanese stewartia (Stewartia monadelpha), a tree noted for its beautiful bark. There are many more wonderful plants to see in this garden. If you live in the Seattle area and never visited it before, treat yourself to a stroll through this garden from late January through February. It will open your eyes and your senses to the pleasures of gardens in winter.