Monday, February 19, 2007

Lenten Rose

Year-round, lenten rose offers deep green glossy foliage, and better yet it blooms in winter, with a season from February well into April. Its especially welcome on a garden walk on a fine winters day, but be sure to place it where your windows look out upon it for those not so nice late winter days!
These evergreen perennials keep their foliage nice year round, with the previous years laying down as the new greenery comes out in early spring. There it is easily removed to tidy up. The foliage is bold, palmately divided, and is well and thickly presented on a foot or 16 inch-(30 - 40 cm) high mounded plant. The blossoms are rounded, nodding, with a central boss of yellow stamens, and range in color from pure white to very deep red-purple. They stand a few inches higher than the foliage. Often the lighter colors are interestingly spotted, like the clone "White Lady" pictured just below. 

The availability of these plants has greatly improved from years past, with both named clones and improved seed strains now on the market. Some include the blood of multiple species of Helleborus, but often H. orientalis is the predominate type. A sister clone to the above is "Red Lady". Other clones in the catalogs include "Rose Madder", "Heronswood Yellow" "Slaty", "Blue Lady" (actually more of a violet), and "Red Mountain". Seed strains include 'Early Purple', 'Party Dress' and 'Border Mix'. You no doubt can find more!

Above: Naturalized Lenten Rose at Elk Rock Gardens.

The blanket advice often given that these are exclusively shade plants isn't fully correct except in hot climates. They are indeed shade tolerant, but they are also take more sun than they are usually given credit for. Plant them in mostly sunny spots or in shady ones, they will grow well and bloom well either way. Try them under or around taller shrubs too. Quickest growth will result if watered, but as natives of dry summer Mediterranean climates they are very drought resistant.

Making more: These can self-sow and naturalize, and if you wish to sow seed simply collect it in early summer and plant outdoors in loose well-drained soil high in organics. Under outdoor conditions seedlings appear in late spring. Division is possible but the plants are slow to get going again. The plants don't really require dividing and can be left alone indefinitely unless outgrowing their spot.

Heat Hardiness Zones 9 through 1
Cold Hardiness Zones 4 through 9
Height to 16 - 18 in. (00 - 46 cm) in flower, 12 - 16 in. (30 - 40 cm) foliage mound.
Spreads 24 to 36 inches (30 - 90 cm) or more in time.

Botanic Name: Helleborus orientalis or hybrids with other closely related species.
Native from Thrace into Asia Minor.

On left: Helleborus orientalis "Red Lady"

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Dragon Wings Begonias

Its rare that something hits the horticultural world that is something truly new, something that was not there before. Plants, after all, have been on this planet almost since the beginning. Now a cross between the common wax begonia and the well-known angelwing begonia has resulted in a series of plants that do things no plant did before.

By combining only the best of traits from the two parents, new possibilities for the garden have arisen. Here we have compact 24-36 inch plants that have large clusters of large bright flowers that produce layer after layer of color on an easily grown, adaptable plant. The picture above is of young plants in the ground only three weeks, from small non-flowering starts. They were planted in early August and the picture was taken on the thirty-first of that month. The plants have the sizable flower clusters of angelwing begonias, but produced with the frequency of the few-flowered clusters of wax begonias, not the sporadic widely spaced way of the angelwing side. The flowers are sterile, so flowering never stops and the old clusters drop off on their own. The leaf size is medium, and a waxy dark green substantial type like the wax begonia. The leaves tell you when the plant needs fertilizer by turning a purple shade.

The flowers dangle so they can be used in hanging baskets. They also display well in beds, and are a real improvement over wax begonias in impact. And they thrive indoors too! These begonias adapt well to the hot steamy conditions down South, and take to cooler summer areas also. Reports from the dry Southwest and California are good too. Some reports indicate they even take light frost, and can survive Zone 8 winters if mulched well. They can be dug and taken indoors for winter, or just grown in pots and shuttled back and forth with the weather.

Our experience is that success indoors is dependent on giving them lots of light. I placed a pair dug from the garden in October in an upstairs bathroom. One had to be behind the other and hence got less light. The one closest to the window has never ceased blooming and growing, while the one getting less light failed completely.

Whenever moving plants inside from the garden, expect some leaf drop from the shock of changing light regimens. All plants vary the structure of its leaves depending on how much light it receives. When a plant is moved from bright outdoor conditions to the comparatively dark indoors, the plant goes into a form of shock, dropping leaves previously adapted to bright light and attempting to grow new ones grown in dimmer light. You can lessen this by choosing shade-grown plants from outside, and then placing them in a sunny window, so that the change in lighting is a little as possible.

You may need to search for Dragon Wing begonias - not all nurserymen have caught on yet to their qualities, and you may have to ask about them or shop around to find them. The seed for them is not only expensive at the wholesale level, but a little more difficult to raise than average. The vigorous young plants fill out small containers rapidly without flowering, so the least expensive small sizes may be offered without blossoms. They bloom well in 4 inch (10 cm) and up pot sizes. Once found in any size, you can put them out as soon as frost danger has past in your area, or use them inside or on protected porches and the like. Their performance will surprise you!