Sunday, 29 January 2017

Plant Profile: Hellebores

Hellebores are ever-popular early spring plants: those flowers that always appeared early in our grandparents and parents gardens, poking out from the dead leaves with their hanging heads, shy to show the beauty they hid within.

Helleborus x hybridus 'White spotted double' in my own garden

As my friend Jenny says about Hellebores “Sad that the flowers face downwards and look unhappy or clinically depressed when they are beautiful inside. They need to face the sun and smile more. I don’t want them pretending to be sunflowers….. but a bit more self esteem is called for”. I think this could be applied to some people too.

One of my own seedlings

Mostly these old hellebores were the white H. nigre the "Christmas Rose" and its cousin H. orientalis, the taller purple "Lenten Rose", though they are not related to roses in the slightest. Over the years these species have given rise to a huge number of cultivars, strains and selected seedling collections because they seed freely and the seedlings can give rise to exciting new marked flowers or better foliage.

A pure white double, Binny Plants
Hellebores originate from an area between Asia and eastern Europe and will grow happily in semi-shade under trees and shrubs, which give them protection from sun in summer and shelter from cold winds in winter. Dig the soil deep before planting and add in plenty humus such as leaf mould, manure or compost. Hellebores are deep rooted so will appreciate this preparation. I have always managed to grow them successfully on clay soil with a mulch of compost and a feed every spring. 

Hellebores and Vinca on a banking, Dingle Nursery, Wales

These days people go mad for the spotted flowering Hellebores, especially double whites, of which there are many strains. Another popular group are the very dark, almost black flowering strains. Many of these are sold under a non-specific name such as Hellebore 'Double White Spotted' or Hellebore 'Pink Lady Spotted' or Hellebore 'Black Form'. Because these are all grown from seed there will variations in the pattern of spotting or colour so it’s always best to buy in flower. That way you can choose the best of the bunch. I once bought H.'Yellow Queen', but when it flowered it was pink!

Helleborus x hybridus White spotted double

Helleborus orientalis 'Harvington Pink Speckled''

I introduced several cultivars to my last garden over the years, yet strangely H.niger never survived. Most of my collection are spotted Harvington Hybrids and their children. When the seedlings that grow like a mini forest under the parent plant are big enough, I plant them out in other shady areas in the garden to see what they will become. In time I will remove the weedy, unexciting ones and keep the interesting well-marked plants. I also have H. sternii, a rougher-leaved upright-growing Hellebore with greenish yellow flowers. It also seeds freely and is great for foliage effect, with its mottled leaves. H. viridis, with its smaller cup shaped green flowers grows well in the woodland garden

Helleborus foetidus, Littleton of Airlie

Hellebores are easy to grow: they like a reasonable soil, a bit of shade and the old foliage cut off in early spring, so we can enjoy the flowers and new foliage emerging. They do take a while to bulk up enough to split and can be huffy if moved: sulky and refusing to flower much until re-established. Slugs can sometimes be a problem, eating through the stems of forming flowers just as you are looking forward to the flowers opening. Plant them with Snowdrops, winter aconites, Pulmonarias and ferns for a burst of late winter / early spring colour in the garden.

Helleborus foetidus, Threave

The Quirky Bird Gardener recommends the following:

Helleborus x ericsmithii ‘Bob’s Best’
Large, saucer-shaped, pink flushed white flowers in winter through to late spring over glaucus, grey foliage with maroon petioles. Height 30cm. 

The following plants are all from the Lady Series of Hellebores developed by German breeder Gisela Schmiemann who took over Helen Ballard’s stock. They show good form with nice, dark-green foliage and stunning flowers. The plants are seed grown so there is a little bit of variability. To 50cm.

Helleborus x hybridus ‘Blue Lady’      
Dark smoky purple blue flowers with cream stamens over lustrous green leaves. Slower growing than the lighter coloured strains.

Helleborus x hybridus ‘Pink Lady’
Plain, pale, cup-shaped flowers or dark-pink and cream stamens on tall stems over well-formed, shiny, dark-green leaves.

Helleborus x hybridus ‘Red Lady’         
Deep reddish flowers with cream stamens and dark green well formed leaves.

Helleborus x hybridus ‘White Lady Spotted’   
Beautiful white flowers, speckled blood-red all over well-formed, shiny, dark green leaves.

Helleborus X hybridus ‘Yellow Lady’    
An unusual colour with lovely primrose yellow flowers speckled blood red.

Helleborus niger
Traditionally known as the Christmas rose, it’s pure white flowers brighten up a shady spot under trees and shrubs from early winter through to early spring.

Helleborus foetidus
The Stinking Hellebore which grows taller to 80cm with deeply cut dark green, leathery leaves under panicles of  drooping lime green flowers. These are often edged with maroon and despite it’s name it is the crushed leaves that smell not the flowers.

Helleborus Viridis
The green hellebore grows to 60cm with green flowers appearing
from February to April over dark green leaves.

Helleborus x hybridus Ashwood Garden hybrids
This is a group of with leathery, divided, glossy, dark green leaves and, from late winter to early spring, saucer-shaped flowers in shades of white, purple, pink, red, apricot, green, yellow and black, some spotted, blotched with maroon or streaked with red. Choose them in flower so you know what you are getting.

Helleborus x hybridus White spotted double
This is a beautiful plant with double white flowers covered in maroon spots. A large clump of these are truly wonderful, as is my own plant here in my own garden, Hellebore perfection!

Helleborus x sternii
Purple-tinted, creamy-green, bowl-shaped flowers appear from February to April. These beautiful hellebores look great planted in groups of three towards the front of a mixed border in sun or partial shade. One of the most eye-catching varieties of hellebore, for maximum results they require a neutral to alkaline soil in sun or partial shade.

We have several varieties available from the nursery including Helleborus x ericsmithii ‘Bob’s Best’, Helleborus x hybridus ‘Pink Lady’Helleborus niger and Helleborus x hybridus ‘White Lady Spotted’. I will be adding more to our stock list as time goes on.

Seedling at Binny Plants

Hellebores can be bought and planted at any time of year, if bought in pots. Autumn is a good time, so they can get their roots into the warm soil before winter and prepare to flower the following spring. A pinch of general fertiliser will give them a boost when planting and in spring, once you have spring-cleaned the garden. 

A good way to see Hellebores is to visit some of the great gardens open in spring or some of the nurseries specialising in Hellebores (see above). I have visited Ashwood Nursery several times and the gardens at this time of year abound with mouthwatering Hellebores. Binny Plants also has an exciting collection in their woodland garden, with many seedlings from Helen Ballard, a famous Hellebore breeder in the 1950's and 60's.

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Monday, 23 January 2017

In a Vase on a Monday - Bright Leaves in the Winter Gloom

I'm sticking with the foliage theme again this week as it is a real winter's day with low temperatures and a dusting of snow here in the Scottish borders. There are plenty plants that are evergreen and provide interest through the winter, but the one one that is standing out in my garden here is Lamium maculatum 'Beacon Silver'. Following the snow showers we've had over the past few days any brave early snow drops have retreated so there is not a flowers to be seen.

Lamium maculatum 'Beacon Silver'

Lamiums as a genus are evergreen perennials that creep over the ground forming dense matts of foliage. They make great ground cover especially in dry shady situations, on bankings or where the soil is shallow. With their rough heart-shaped leaves which are usually variegated they will brighten up a shady corner all year round.

Placed in an enamel mug it fits in with my other vintage enamel jugs in the kitchen. The tattie masher belonged to my granny and dates from the 1930's, I still use it often, built to last!

You can see the lovely silver markings on the leaves which brighten up a winter's day

On this cultivar the flowers are a dark pink mauve and appear from Spring through to late summer, often throwing out odd flowers well into Autumn and Winter.

In the garden under the Elder bush it thrives in dappled shade

The flowers

If the plant gets too big for it's space it is easily pulled out and reduced in size. My plant here at home has been in two years. Planted as a two litre pot six inches across it now happily fills a two metre by metre space under an Elder bush. On dull days I can see it from the house brightening up that border.

Thanks to Cathy at Rambling in the Garden for hosting our vases on a Monday.

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Saturday, 21 January 2017

A Climb up Traprain Law

A couple of weeks ago we decided to go and climb up Traprain in East Lothian. I've been passing this piece of left over volcanic rock on the way to visit family in Dunbar since I was born. Now finally I got around to climbing it. The weather was a bit cloudy but cleared as we reached the top so we had a reasonable view.  

Looking towards the Lammermuir Hills from the top of Traprain Law

Following the road along the base of the hill you come to a car park (oversized lay by) and from here climb over the style and along the side of the wall. The well worn path takes you up the fairly steep side, zig zagging until you reach the trig point at the top. It's a fairly good work out climbing up but quick too.

Wild ponies on top of the hill

We were surprised to find a lovely group of wild ponies at the top, although the sign says don't approach them or feed them, they are friendly and obviously used to people. If they're not happy they move off, this trio were happy to pose.

David and Bracken photobombed by a pony

Another surprise was how uneven the top of the hill is, it doesn't look like it from the surrounding countryside. Traprain Law was home to the Votadini from AD40 but there is evidence of it being used for burials from 1500BC. There is no evidence of the hill fort now and a big chunk has been quarried out of the north east corner.

The Bass Rock

In 1919 archaeologists found a hoard of silver plate within the boundary of the settlement. The hoard consisted of hacked up table ware with only some pieces remaining intact. There was also some coins and fragments of a Roman officer's uniform. You can now see this amazing collection in the Royal Museum of Scotland in Chamber Street (one of my very favourite places).

Bracken on a Rock

David and Bracken with the East cost in the Background

We had good views of Dunbar to the east and North Berwick and the Bass Rock to the north. To the south ranges the Lammermuir Hills. You can't quite see Edinburgh as there are several low hills in the way.


North Berwick

A Lion King moment

Looking to Edinburgh

Plenty healthy mosses on the rock

The ponies

Me and Bracken

Legend says this was a sacrificial pool where the tribes people placed goods to
appease the gods or to ask for favours..............

Looking back over the top of the hill

Looking to the Lammermuirs

We followed the same path back down, it's a bit muddy in places so take care if it's been raining. We went for lunch at Smeatons Garden Centre in East Linton just 10 minutes away. They have a lovely wee cafe in the old greenhouses in the walled garden and do a good panini and salad. We enjoyed our morning out and there is plenty more to do in East Lothian if you are spending time in this area.

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Monday, 16 January 2017

In a Vase on a Monday - Bringing Winter Colour Indoors

This is my first vase on a Monday, and continuing on the theme of my last two blogs it brings some of the stem and foliage colour in my January garden indoors. It's amazing what is hiding out there under all the fallen leaves and last years stems if you rummage around.

Bringing winter interest indoors

I've put together stems of Cornus contraversa, Salix gracilistyla 'Melanostachys', Stephanandra tanakae, Hedera 'Rona', Vinca minor, Euonymus 'Emerald and gold' and Equisetum hymale.

The mottled leaves of Hedera hibernica 'Rona' are quite often tinged with pink

Once the ginger beer is drunk I keep some of the dinky bottles as a display
 on the window sill but they also make great wee vases for small things like this

Coloured stems add so much to the
garden at this time of year

I found a flower of Galanthus 'Magnet', Hepatica noblis and Cyclamen coum, all bravely putting out first flowers in some of the alpine troughs. 

A shot glass makes the perfect vase for these
 tiny brave souls

Who can resist fresh eggs from our chickens at this time of year, we're still
getting a couple a day from our six ladies

Thank you to Cathy at Rambling in the Garden for hosting In a vase on a Monday where you can see what other garden bloggers are putting in vases.

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Sunday, 15 January 2017

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - January 2017

For me in both my nursery garden and my own garden at home here in the Scottish borders it's all about foliage and evergreens at this time of year. Occasionally there is a random out of season brave flower or two or early snow drops if the weather has been mild. Earlier in the week I went rummaging in amongst the dead leaves and last years plant growth to see what was colourful. It's amazing what you can find. Thank you to May Dreams Gardens for letting us join in. 

There is plenty colour when you look closely in this Scottish garden

Euphorbia characias subsp. Wulfenii has flowered right through winter, planted in a sheltered spot it has flowered through two Scottish winters so far

Nature makes the best hearts
Tellima grandiflora Rubra Group

Cyclamen hederifolium, great under trees and shrubs, when buying select the best marked leaved plants

Snow drops are starting to peek through

You can always cheat and escape from the cold into the heated greenhouse and pretend you're in the desert on the cacti bench or in the jungle amongst the yuccas and Abutilons

Heuchera and Dryopteris for winter colour

Hedera 'Rona'

Lamium maculatum 'Beacon Silver' and 
Heucherella 'Brass Lanterns'

Pulmonaria 'Rachel vernie'

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Friday, 13 January 2017

The Scottish Winter Garden

We often think of winter here in Scotland, especially January and February, as dull, cold, dreich months with nothing growing and little interest out side. But delve below the fallen leaves and last years plant debris and there are winter gems waiting to be found. Even high up in the hills here in the Scottish borders there is life and colour. It's one of the great things about doing the winter tidy up after new year, finding all those evergreens and spots of colour in the borders, oh and the garden looks so much tidier and ready for the coming year too of course.

I went searching in my own garden this week for winter colour and interest
and this is what I found

Tellima grandiflora Rubra group and
Polystichium setiferum

Apart from the obvious evergreen shrubs and conifers, there are ferns, perennials and grasses that will give you colour through winter. Plant them in borders and tubs that you can see from the house, so even on the coldest dullest day you can still benefit from that winter colour when gazing out the window wishing the sun would shine. I talked quite a lot about stem and bark winter interest in a previous blog which is listed at the end of this blog. These give you the structure to then under plant with perennials, ferns and early bulbs. I am hoping to create a winter border in the nursery opposite the cafe, so even in the depths of winter, customers can be inspired by some colour.

Buxus sempervirens or common box

Use Box either as hedging or topiary to give you evergreen form as a back ground for other plants or on their own in the border or pots. They can be quite structural and with a coating of frost bring an ethereal look to the garden.

Cyclamen hederifolium

Under trees and shrubs plant Cyclamen hederifolium, although small they cover them selves in white or pink flowers and even when not flowering the foliage has distinct silver markings which really stand out. When I buy them I make sure I buy plants with well marked leaves, meaning I now have some interesting seedlings growing.

Hedera hibernica 'Rona'

Don't just think trees and shrubs when you want to go upwards. Ivies will give you evergreen foliage in many different patterns of green, gold and silver. There are winter flowering clematis but I've never had any success with them in our high up gardens here.

Lamium maculatum 'Beacon Silver' and
 Heucherella 'Brass Lanterns'

Polypodium x mantoniae

Evergreen ferns are well worth growing in shady places, especially Polypodium which make good ground cover and cope with dry shady conditions and shallow soil. Asplenium scolopendrum 'Angustatum', Blechnum spicant, Dryopteris erythrosora and Polystichiums will give a varied and interesting display all year.

Sequoia sempervirens

If you have the space some grand conifers will add height and interest, give them room to grow to their natural shape and you can have year round interest. Dotted about in a mixed border they add height and act as a back drop for perennials and bulbs.

Taxus baccata Fastigiata Aurea Group

Vinca minor and it's cultivars make good
ground cover in most conditions
 and flower from spring onward

Euphorbia characias subsp. Wulfenii

Up in the hills here a sheltered corner will help Euphorbia characias subsp. Wulfenii escape the worst of the winter. This one at home is going into it's third year and is growing very well and is infact still flowering even in winter. It is evergreen and doesn't die back as some Euphorbias do, just cut out the old stems once they die back.

Flowers of Euphorbia characias subsp. Wulfenii

Euonymus 'Emerald and Gold', great for winter colour, this one brightens
 up a dark corner, even when covered in snow

Bergenia 'Claire Maxine'

If you are going to grow Bergenia, make sure you plant a variety that has great colour in autumn and winter and get more year round value for your money. There are several varieties that are especially colourful in winter including Bergenia 'Claire Maxine' and Bergenia 'WIntermarchen'

Heuchera, nature makes the best hearts

So there we are, a wee round up of what can brighten up the garden at this time of year, especially here in Scotland and in the Scottish borders hills in both my nursery and own garden. Hopefully I've given you some inspiration to create an all year round garden or even a border or containers. A lot of plants are available in the nursery from the beginning of March when we re-open for 2017.

Previous blogs about winter colour in the garden

Winter Interest Plants

Keeping the garden interesting through winter

Have a great weekend.


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