Sunday, June 15, 2008

Consider the Hellebores

Three years ago I noticed that my few Hellebores were growing a crop of seedlings. So I took the seedlings and placed them in an unused bed in the back yard. In three years they produced a thick bed of leathery, glossy foliage about two feet high, evergreen through our winter, covered in tan flowers. They did not come 'true' from seedlings, reverting to green/tan from previously blue/pink flowers. They had survived, forgotten, the drought of '07 with almost no watering. About three years from small seedlings to mature plants. Good attributes.

Hellebores are now common in the garden catalogs. Not so ten years ago. The local nurseries also have them, though they are not as common as Hostas. They are surprisingly pricey, marketed as exotics. Beyond being mostly evergreen (burning here in cold winters) they have a number of benefits. They do well in shade, though they do benefit from some sun. Once established, they can survive a dry area. They bloom, remarkably in mid to late winter, sometimes in the midst of snow.

Why not divide them into my front garden? I had never divided Hellebores. I have done countless other plants, but not Hellebores. So I read up on them on the Internet and went through all the question and answers. The WP has a good overview. Many thought they were mysterious and needed special care during division. Toxic, don't eat, some people have skin reactions.

I got my shovel and started to divide the bed in place, digging under, lifting and then hacking away each plant, trying to get as much soil with each divided plant as possible. Easily got a dozen plants from half my seedling bed. They are easier to work with than Hostas. Dug the receiving hole, augmented the soil with organic matter, added some slow release fertilizer, watered in the hole, placed in the plant and firmly tamped it down, watered again. The new location is in dappled shade. They are doing well.

A good choice for the semi-shady garden. Requires little work. Can produce a thick bed of ground cover ideal for fill-ins in tough areas. Above is one of the plantings. Will report on the bed in the future,

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