A May Day walkabout

The start of May is always an exciting time because for us it’s that part of spring when everything just explodes into growth.  We might be a little behind this year, but you still can’t beat the first of May.  The biggie bulbs like daffodils and tulips are taking off now and the front bed has finally been resurrected from its winter drabness.

spring bulbs in a mixed border

Early daffodils and a few of the first tulips opening up along the front border.

I’m trying to get things moved around while it’s still cool but life always interferes with colds, work, and T ball games so I’m already way behind.  Last Saturday all I wanted to do was move seven rooted privet cuttings into place to start a nice little hedge along the back fence, instead it turned into an hour long project and I ended up digging out a good sized boulder.  At least I got this magnolia transplanted before it leafed out.

white magnolia

Magnolia in position near the street. I wish I knew the variety but it’s a layered cutting stolen from my brother in Law’s yard….. yes, it needs some pruning.

If I had more land there’s a good chance I’d find room for a number of magnolias.  But I don’t, so I try to stick with some of the smaller types… even though a nice big one would make for a good shade garden once you trim it up.  Here’s magnolia “Ann”, one of the smaller bush/tree sized ones, finally big enough to bloom after several years of rabbit attacks.

magnolia ann

Magnolia “Ann”. A smaller, later blooming cultivar that should grow into a nice sized bush here in front of the fence.

winter buned foliage on southern magnolia "little gem"

“Little Gem” magnolia still looking worse for wear after the winter.

While on the subject of magnolias, the freezer burned “Little Gem” is still looking sad and brown and dead, but I’m still pretty sure it will recover just fine once warm weather hits.  As soon as these brown leaves start to drop off I’ll know the plant is starting to think about putting on new leaves.  It will look worse before it gets better, but hopefully by June will look as good as new.

Luckily other parts of the garden look good enough to distract you from the first aid beds.  Yellow primrose has clumped up nicely in the damper parts of the yard.  In the next few days I’m going to try separating this clump, and hopefully this really is the right time of year to tackle this.  My track record on primula is not too good, so wish me luck.

yellow primrose primula vulgaris

A yellow primrose (primula vulgaris?), one of the few primula to survive any amount of time in my care.

I guess I might as well bore you with a few daffodils too 🙂  I have quite a few and really do need to give them some attention this summer in terms of division and moving and “thinning the herd”.

daffodils and tulips

Some of my favorite daffodils…. with a few tulips sneaking in.

A friend of mine lured me in to the daffodil world a few years ago.  While she succumbed to  the dark world of show daffodils, I’ve held strong and try to keep myself satisfied with just a few good garden varieties…. actually it’s hard to go wrong with daffodils, and it’s also hard to stop at just a hundred or two!

mixed pink and white daffodils

Left to right- narcissus “golden echo”, “passionale”, and “serola”

Maybe I’ll admit to having just a few show quality daffodils.  As far as I know something like this one, with a nice strong (not tissue papery) flower substance, nice flat petals, clean unmarked, and no nicks or anything around the edge…. that’s what makes for a flower you could bring to a show (that and a few years practice and you might bring home a bunch of ribbons!)

narcissus "new penny"

Narcissus “New Penny” looking nice in the garden and maybe worthy a spot on the show bench?

It’s still a little early here for tulips, they’re only just starting to color up around the beds and add in a little contrasting pinks and reds, but the muscari always brings in a nice blue to go along with the yellows and whites of the daffodils.  These can be a pest in some gardens, but I guess I’m still young enough or dumb enough to not mind them spreading a bit…. or I’ve been conscientious enough to behead them after blooming to stop their seed spreading ways.

blue muscari

Regular old blue muscari given to me by a friend. I need to remember to spice up this planting with a few of the pale blue “Valerie Finnis” which still need planting out.

A plant I wouldn’t mind seeing spread a little is this nice double hellebore that’s blooming for the first time this spring.  It’s another seedling from the now closed Elizabethtown nursery and I believe it was supposed to be a double pink cross.  Double it is but pink it’s not, and I’m quite happy with this genetic mix up.  The newest blooms open a pale chartreuse and then darken to a limey green.  I can’t wait to see what it looks like next year!

green double hellebore from elizabeth town seed

First year’s bloom of a lime green double hellebore from Elizabethtown seed.

And that just about does it.  After the subtle rarefication of a lime green hellebore I leave you with a final view of bright tulips and a photo bombing tacky orange plastic Adirondack chair.  It was a gift from my mother in law and I’m really quite pleased with it.  I guess my endless whining about wanting a couple for the back yard didn’t fall on deaf ears.

tulips and daffodils in a mixed border

What better front yard art is there than brightly colored plastic lawn furniture?

I wonder how long it can stay out there before the Hillbilly comments start and people again loudly question my design sense?  Maybe a pair of these chairs would be twice as good?  I might have to test that this weekend, since I eventually will retire these to the back.  In the meantime I’m beginning to think this could be the new millennium’s version of the pink flamingo.



Hyacinths and Hellebores

I like hyacinths.  They’re so fat and fragrant I can’t help but not like them, and even though I don’t think I use them well in the garden they will always get a spot here.  -Even if they’re all girly pink and white like some Easter wedding bouquet 🙂

dutch hyacinths

Pink and white dutch hyacinths. I like them, but not so much with the bright blue of the scilla siberica “spring beauty”.  Also the pastel combo reminds me too much of the bathroom we still need to remodel.

The darker blue and purple shades are something I’ve been trying to add more of around the garden.  I think they complement the daffodils and tulips well and I’m glad to see that several are making offsets and beginning to clump up.  Dividing them would save me a few bulb dollars that could be spent on other goodies!

miss saigon hyacinth

“Miss Saigon” hyacinth (maybe?) with a mix of other spring bulbs.  Notice the freeze damage on the tulips, they didn’t enjoy last week’s 20F nighttime lows.

The large, heavy blooms of hyacinths can look a bit awkward in the garden and tend to flop, so I’m really loving the looser multi-flowering types.  I think this is hyacinth “Anastacia”.  Each bulb of this type sends up several smaller bloom stalks rather than one large congested head, and the dark purple flower stems only add to the effect.  Too bad the only other colors I can find these in is pink and white…

hyacinth anastacia

If you remember, we had a hard freeze last week and although most things made it through just fine, there has been some damage to tulip foliage, hyacinth blooms (a few randomly turned to mush), and hellebore stalks.  Hellebores are trying to put on a show now, but this garden is pretty wide open, and hellebores take a beating.

freeze damage on hellebores

Hellebores with some freeze damage to the blooms, but still putting on a show!

Between last summer’s drought, last winter’s freezes, and late spring cold snaps it’s a wonder that I get any blooms.  Maybe pity will be the motivation I need to reward these clumps with some better prepared soil and a less weedy location.  It’s a shame these and some other cool anemone flowered plants are forced to suffer like this!

pink spotted anemone hellebore

Pink anemone flowered hellebore with spotting, grown from Elizabethtown seed sown around 2008ish.

I hate having my hands in pictures, but to get the full effect you really have to take a look inside these blooms.  Maybe someday I’ll collect a dishful and float them in water, but until then you’re stuck with the hand shots.

white anemone flowered hellebore

A little beat up by the cold, but still a nice white anemone, -also from Elizabethtown hellebore seed.

These were also raised from Elizabethtown seed, and now that Elizabethtown has closed down retail seed sales, I’m at a loss for a new seed source.  I could go with tissue cultured hybrids or buy seedlings of some of the better strains, but I like the adventure of raising from seed, even if it takes a couple years for your first bloom…. plus it’s so much more affordable (unless you’re eyeing Ashwood seed from England!)

dark red double helleboe

A nice red double and some yellow picotee seedlings blooming for the first time. They also took a beating from the cold.

I don’t know if this last one counts as anemone flowered, but the neatly arranged petaloids(?) or nectaries(?) inside the bloom give a similar effect.  The plant photographed well and the color looks more apricot than it really is, in person the flower leans more towards interesting than towards beautiful.

blooming hellebore

Hellebore blooms padded with extra petaloids, these plants are sheltered by the house.

Sorry about the poor picture quality, the day was a little dull for my point and shoot skills to get good pictures, but I wanted to get a few in there before I get lost in the world of daffodils and tulips!  The early ones are just starting now and between trying to get things transplanted and trying to enjoy every new flower it’s hectic.  Viva la Spring! 🙂

Surprise Hellebore

I planted out a bunch of neglected hellebore seedlings early last fall and hoped they would have time to root in before winter really set in.  Apparently they did.  This double red seedling from Elizabethtown seed really took off and even put out a bloom.double red hellebore

The rest of the seedlings are much smaller and may consider a flower by next year, this one really surprised me.  Needless to say I’m pleased as punch since this one is my first seed grown double…. so far….

My biggest issue with late plantings such as these is frost heave, when freezing and thawing pushes the plants up out of the soil and kills them through exposure, but that’s usually the only problem for these tough growers.  I’ve found a nice mulch of chopped leaves gives them enough insulation to protect them throughout the winter, even in this exposed spot.  Then the mulch just stays there as they start to grow.  Good drainage in the raised beds is also a plus.

They’re in the middle of the vegetable garden, which might be the next problem.  It’s full, baking sun which they seem to like unless they dry out too often too severely.  Hopefully when I pass by each day I’ll be smart enough to keep an eye on watering needs.

Now I just need to find a new spot for the tomatoes.

A few good hellebores

In the last 4-5 years I’ve noticed that hellebores have entered the tissue culture world. It was just a matter of time I guess, but I feel like it takes away a little bit of the magic and mystery of these plants….. but on the other hand there’s no way I would have ever gotten my hands on some of the newer complicated (usually sterile) cross-species cultivars that are showing up.


This “HGC Silvermoon” is a heavy bloomer with an interesting color.  It’s attractively planted too close to a construction area and the bricks are supposed to remind me not to step on it.  Too bad the leaves get beat up by the ice and snow, I’ve seen it in bloom with foliage intact and it looks so much better.  But you get what you get when you’re too lazy to offer up any winter protection.


“Cinnamon Snow” is from a similar cross involving 2 different species.  I could google the info and come off as sounding pretty smart but it’s late and I don’t think I’d be fooling anyone.  I believe one of the parents is H. Niger, commonly known as the Christmas Rose, and I think this is the first time I’ve got a nice bloom on this plant.  It’s in a sheltered spot so the leaves hold up well, but the sheltered spot also brings the blooms up early so they tend to freeze, abort and not open fully


Hybrid hellebores

The “other” hellebores are the regular hybrid hellebores.  They’re a mix of several species, they set seed easily and run a range of colors from white to mauve to purple to nearly black.  There are some greens and yellows now and with spotting and doubles the range keeps getting bigger.  Nearly all of my plants are from seed, but tissue culture clones are showing up here too.  These here are all from Australian Elizabethtown seed (now sadly closed).


I’m still waiting for the fancier ones to grow up and bloom, but I do have a couple anemone flowered (a flower part-way between single and double) starting to put on a decent show…. I hate when any part of my hand shows up in a picture, but hellebores tend to nod and sometimes you need a helping hand to peek inside.

Since many hellebores are seed grown there’s always the chance your plant will be a dud when it blooms, and it’s not a bad idea to avoid buying them sight unseen, but if you go with a decent source your chances for a good ‘un are much better.  I would bet that most people in the anti-hellebore camp (if one exists) have only seen poor quality seed grown plants.  Get good seed and be patient, things will work out.


Next year should be a good hellebore year.  I have way too many seedlings coming along and have actually been taking pretty good care of them.  I’m hoping for doubles, yellows, picotees…. all the fancy new types that I don’t have yet.  The nursery plants are usually out of my budget, but give me a packet of seeds and a couple years and I’m right there with a decent hellebore bed.