Here in the Northwest, spring fever lasts for months. Giddy days with a high temp are followed by days of taking to our houses.
Neglected, my garden looks under-the-weather, so the other day I cut back stalks of foxglove and dried-up bushes of herbs. Spring is lengthy, but winter quiescence for herbaceous plants is brief, and cutting back crocosmia slimed by November’s frost, two-inch blades of new green stand ready. Tightly furled newborns of columbine and sedum hug the earth. To plant the primroses, I took the Christmas fir branches off the window boxes – breaking up last years roots, happy to smell dirt.
In a bed by the front step, tiny magenta cyclamen bloomed all January, but I can’t pick them. Wanting to bring flowers indoors I found one beautiful hepatica, starry-shaped, stalwart, such a blue, a couple of tiny fern fronds, one pansy and one last year primrose, both with slug bites – and hellebore.
Hellebore – improbable beauty – they bloom so willingly and early that one variety can be called the Christmas rose. They seem an old fashioned delicate flower – and terrifically tough.
One year before we lived here and had to cancel a winter trip further south, as a consolation I bought nine hellebore from the Heronswood Hellebore Open. Heronswood is gone, but the hellebore still console. Since deer don’t eat them (another strong point), I should move them out of the courtyard.
But shoulds aside, I like having them close by in wintry weather. The hellebore tip their heads and protect their faces from rain. They cheer a quick trip to the Buffalo. (A four-year old visitor melded what she called bison that she saw on her drive north, with bungalow her mother’s word for the guesthouse, into Buffalo. And it stuck.)
A hard freeze will flatten hellebore into a faint – long stems, blossoms, and leaves collapse on the ground – but they revive as the day warms. In summer their big leathery leaves stay a healthy green, and only now, as the new blossoms come on, do they look sickly. Trimming them back sets the blossom clusters off – pale pink, acid green, burgundy.
I used to be disappointed, when I brought them into the house, by their immediate swoon over the side of a vase. But last year in “The Gardener’s Guide to Growing Hellebores,” I read the expert Margery Fish’s advice to simply slit the stems of cut hellebore all the way to first leaves. Now hellebore in tiny Turkish glasses stay vigorous for days.
Thanks for the tip!! I’m always disappointed at how quickly my cut hellebores wilt so I quit cutting them ages ago.