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It’s Been Spring for Ages and I’m Jonesing for New Plants

Posted on 23 March 2012

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by Paige Patterson

It’s been spring for ages, and I’m jonesing for new plants!

Well the snowdrops are up, the hellebores are in full bloom, my witch hazel has been going for a couple of months now, I have two prunus mume, Japanese flowering apricots, in full on pink riots of open flowers and there’s a magnolia in bloom on Rose Street in the village. Crazy! Well yesterday was the first day of spring, but in my garden it’s been spring for ages, thanks to the winter that wasn’t! Not that I’m complaining as I loathe the cold, but my hydrangea leaves are opening, my daylilies are up, all my roses have new foliage and I’m dying to plant something!

I thought about sowing some mache lettuce weeks and weeks ago but didn’t because I was sure it was going to get super cold, now I’m kicking myself because I didn’t. Of course, if I had, we’d probably have had a blizzard, but for the last week or so every cell in my body is telling me that it’s spring time and it’s time to root around in the garden.

I’ve already bought all my seeds, I even got some sent to me compliments of Renee’s Garden so I can write and tell you how they work out; but how do you figure out when to start seeds when there hasn’t even been a first hard frost, let alone a last one?

My peas are in and spinach is going in tomorrow, as is arugula. I did start my Imperial Star artichoke seeds on my one windowsill with sun, but until I win Lotto and get a greenhouse, I’ve got to play it safe for a while with sticking things in the soil. I must say the idea of having artichokes that can actually set buds their first year would be killer, as they’re just not meant to make it through the winter here. There are a couple of us trying to overwinter ones from last year, and this winter has been a godsend for us, but I’m excited to try the Imperial and I think I’ve got a source for organic Tavor artichoke plants, I’ve ordered 48! Woo hoo! I’m going to tuck them into all my flowerbeds.

But since I’m really itching to plant something, I made a quick round to the few nurseries that are still open and picked up some more hellebores, because who can have too many hellebores right? Shady loving, deer resistant, hard to kill and one of the first signs of spring – what’s not to love? What most of the nurseries have right now are your basic helleborus niger, commonly known as the Christmas or Lenten Rose. Even during this mild, mild winter, none of mine were up at Christmas, but I heard tell of a few in a sheltered area of Springs and I thought I spied one on Suffolk Street, although I might have imagined it.

What was blooming for me before the holidays were my h. foetidus, or stinking hellebore. I happen to love these plants, mostly because I go nuts for green flowers, although I’ve lost a number of them to cold snaps when we have warm early winters and then the temperatures drop. I have just reestablished a nice grove of the variety ‘Wester Flisk’; which has a thinner, more finely cut, ferny leaf; around my non-disease-resistant peach tree’s base, and I’m hoping the last of my straight species will set some seed this year, but if not I can always get more babies at Marders when they come in at the end of the month. Anyway, the basic Lenten rose is wonderful, but keep your eyes out for the hybrids that are h. niger crosses and all have larger, more upright flowers. There’s one called ‘Jacob’ which blooms earlier than the ‘Snow Lady’ which is going strong now.

The hellebores I truly can’t get enough of are the h. orientalis and its hybrids. The species self-seeds with abandon in my garden, which is brilliant. Unfortunately, I had to move a big Japanese maple smack into the middle of the oldest and most prolific bed, so the show this year isn’t going to be stellar; but I did transplant a bunch of them to other spots in the garden.

I know I’m always raving about there being no such thing as too many plants, but I really feel that way about hellebores, and their colors are getting to be amazing. From which really looks like true black to pure white, purple, pink, spotted, frilled, contrasting veins, red, green, doubles and now yellows and peach, the heart does little flippy flops just thinking about them.

‘Grape Galaxy’ is deep purple with black freckles and is to die, ‘Mrs. Betty Ranicar’ is triple layers of white that looks almost ranunculus like, ‘Blue Metallic Lady’ is a cool slate blue single while ‘Frilly Kitty’ is a double that ranges in shades from the palest pink to deep maroon. And then there’s ‘Swirling Skirts’, a white double with tiny freckles.

The ones I want most desperately are those that were bred by Marietta O’Byrne and are distributed by a wholesale plant breeding company called Terra Nova, the same folks that are responsible for the whole heuchera craze. They breed plants with the “havetohave” gene. I need helleborus ‘Winter Jewels™ Onyx Odyssey’, with double slate, purple and black flowers the way I used to need Manolo Blahniks. And then there’s ‘Winter Jewel Cherry Blossom’ — single and semi double anemone shaped flowers in soft pink with dark rose veins, with a picotee edging and a little starburst in the center. Be still my heart.

Paige Patterson plans on nabbing most of the helleborus ‘Winter Jewels™ Black Diamond’ arriving at Marders this week!

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