A Tribute to the Lenten Rose

What all can I think of to say about this wonderful plant that blooms for Lent, just as its name promises? It tolerates shade, deer don’t eat it, it blooms when the human psyche most needs it, it’s easy to grow, perennial, and it increases its population by free-seeding.

Lenten rose (or 'hellebore')--a true harbinger of spring

Lenten rose (or ‘hellebore’)–a true harbinger of spring

As the cold, the snow, the freezing rain and the dark days of winter begin to change to more acceptable weather, I look for the flowers of the Lenten rose—also botanically known as hellebores. In most cases the blooms hang down, preparing to drop their seeds at their feet. I stretch out on the warming ground to get a picture of the open flower against the sky

Looking up at the Lenten rose flower with the sky blue background

Looking up at the Lenten rose flower with the sky blue background

Lenten rose makes a very practical and pretty under-planting for plants that perform later in the season. Here is a grouping of hellebores in front of hydrangeas and acuba. The combination works well.

planting of Lenten rose, hydrangea, and acuba. A good mix for shady places

planting of Lenten rose, hydrangea, and acuba. A good mix for shady places

The hellebores also work well in larger natural areas. It is not common for a plant to colonize an ivy bed but the picture below is proof positive of the possibility. Lenten roses are available in several pastel colors as well as white.

Lenten rose naturalized in the middle of an ivy bed under a maple tree.

Lenten rose naturalized in the middle of an ivy bed under a maple tree.

A year or two after the initial planting of the Lenten rose you may start to notice the appearance of seedlings around the parent plant. The seedlings should be left in place for a while to mature and then may be transplanted. If you wish, however, you may just leave them in place and they will form a colony.

lenten rose seedlings appear a year or so after the momma plant is installed.

lenten rose seedlings appear a year or so after the momma plant is installed.

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

Plants that perform well in a shade garden—adding texture and color.

Selecting plants for a shade garden is tricky. I have found that there are many variations of light and shade in such an environment and sometimes it just takes a lot of trial and error to get the plants in the right places. There is ‘bright shade,’ ‘moderate shade,’ and ‘total shade.’ All plants need at least some light to grow. I suppose that the shadiest garden would call for a planting of moss and mushrooms—given enough humidity.

As the shade garden articles will be an on-going series, I have started gathering pictures of plants that have fared will in such a location. Other articles on shade gardening may be found if you CLICK HERE.

I think that my number one favorite shade plant is the Lenten rose (helleborus). This plant offers a soft evergreen beauty and puts forth a wonderful burst of color in the late winter to early spring. It is best planted in clumps and will naturalize itself into a colony as time goes by.

Lenten rose (helleborus)--The perfect plant for the shade garden

Lenten rose (helleborus)–The perfect plant for the shade garden

I want to show you pictures of the same area of one garden. We planted some ferns years ago and then planted helleborus to the front of the ferns to fill in. I have watched this part of the shade garden over the years and it is rather interesting. Here is a picture of the spot in March. The ferns are dormant.

lenten roses will multiply over the years by seed, forming a colony

lenten roses will multiply over the years by seed, forming a colony

As the spring and summer progresses, the ferns come up through the Lenten roses and in July, the planting looks like this.

deciduous ferns and lenten roses in the summertime.

deciduous ferns and lenten roses in the summertime.

Around where I live they call the next plant ‘plum yew.’ The botanical name is ‘cephalotaxus harringtonia prostrada.’ I really like this plant. It is rather slow growing until it takes hold after a few years, but it is very hardy and sturdy. As the plum yew grows, it provides a nice soft, evergreen with a fern-like texture.

Cephalotaxus, or 'plum yew'--excellent in the shady border, but give it room

Cephalotaxus, or ‘plum yew’–excellent in the shady border, but give it room

One of the most popular shade plants is the hosta. I read somewhere that there are so many varieties of hosta that a lot of them don’t even have names. One should try several different locations in the shade garden to find just the right place for the hostas. Too much sun will scald the leaves and they won’t grow to their best in too much shade.

hosta is a natural for the shade garden

hosta is a natural for the shade garden

There are a number of varieties of variegated acuba. I think the one pictured here is called ‘gold dust.’ Acubas may grow into rather large bushes and add a spot of yellow here or there. A small problem is that acubas are sometimes attacked by a black looking leaf spot–this is a fungus and is easily treated. Refer to THIS Article for information on controlling the problem.

Acuba offers a bright spot of yellow in the shade garden.

Acuba offers a bright spot of yellow in the shade garden.

A shade plant that is growing in popularity is the heuchera or ‘coral bells.’ There are several varieties with different and interesting leaf colors. The coral bell flowers are produced in clusters on long stems. I would say that the plant would be used mostly for the foliage. It is a reliable perennial

heuchera, 'coral bells'--don't worry, nobody else knows how to pronounce it, either.

heuchera, ‘coral bells’–don’t worry, nobody else knows how to pronounce it, either.

My favorite flower for summer color in a shady area would be the impatiens. They come in a wide variety of colors and enjoy a shady location. They will need a little bit of dappled sunlight, though, to perform at their best.

Spots of color are easy with impatiens

Spots of color are easy with impatiens

A number of spring flowering bulbs will perform well in a shade garden, also. Daffodils and woods hyacinths are among them. These bulbs may be planted in November and will return year after year to delight you with their pretty, fragrant flowers.

hyacinths, daffodils, and a number of other spring blooming bulbs will enjoy the shade garden

hyacinths, daffodils, and a number of other spring blooming bulbs will enjoy the shade garden

The shade garden articles will be an on going project. You may subscribe by signing up in the box at the top right of this article and receive an article a week to your email.

I would appreciate any comments or suggestions on choosing plants for shade gardens. Leave a comment.

And a Word from Our Sponsor:

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

If you want a consultation in your yard in N.W. Georgia, send me an email at wherdepony@bellsouth.net

Adding Definition to a Shade Garden.

It’s funny how things work out. I was just getting ready to write a series of articles about shade gardens when Lisa and Dick Landry asked me to come over and work on the yard at their new house which sits on the top of a big hill within the city limits. It may even be a mountain. The location is not listed as one of Rome, Georgia’s seven hills, but it looks down on a couple of them.

The yard is rather large and well shaded by numerous old, large trees. I entered through the back garden gate.

Shade garden entrance, "before"

Shade garden entrance, “before”

I found it interesting to walk through a shade garden that had been there for a number of years. I was looking to see what plants thrived in the environment. A lot of plants will live in the shade but few will actually “perform.” It appeared that someone had put a bit of thought into the original planting of the garden but then the landscaper seems to have changed to someone who just stuck things in the ground with very little thought. There are several Arizona cypress, for instance, which perform well in full sun but exhibit puny and straggly growth in the shade.

There are a lot of rocks in the yard which could be moved around. This delighted me. I grinned as I noticed one thing that thrives in the shade—moss.

no problem growing moss on rocks in the shade

no problem growing moss on rocks in the shade

Mulch and groundcovers are important in a garden of this size. I haven’t decided how to handle that yet, but I was happy to see a large expanse of vinca minor (periwinkle). Vinca is a wonderful ground cover for shady areas—but be sure to use the smaller v. minor and not the larger leaved v.major which will take over an area and become unmanageable.

Vinca minor--a wonderful groundcover for shady places.

Vinca minor–a wonderful groundcover for shady places.

I noticed a holly fern performing well in an alcove by the back patio.

Holly fern in medium bright shade

Holly fern in medium bright shade

The oak leaf hydrangea was doing well in one part of the yard. It was placed to get some late afternoon sun. I don’t think that this plant would perform in the deeper shade.

Oak leaf hydrangea in shade garden

Oak leaf hydrangea in shade garden

This gardenia seemed to be performing well. There weren’t any blooms on it but I could see evidence of flowers from a few weeks ago.

broad leafed gardenia in the shade garden

broad leafed gardenia in the shade garden

I decided that we would spend a day cleaning, pruning, and generally shaping up the yard. Something just wasn’t right about the plantings and I wanted time to think about it so as we pruned and cleaned, I had time to look at the garden from a lot of different viewpoints. I’ve always thought of gardening as a four dimensional art form—there are the ubiquitous dimensions of height, width, and depth—but the art of the garden adds the dimension of being inside the creation and looking out. I suppose that the changes of time would also give us a fifth dimension. It depends on one’s viewpoint.

As we were cleaning and pruning I had occasion to sit in a chair on the back patio. I noticed a place in what I would call the back “wall” of the plantings that looked interesting. I studied it a while and then did some careful pruning, returning to the patio periodically to check the progress. The pruning opened up an interesting window in the “wall” which looked way out over a house across the street and into a pasture in the valley. Here’s what I saw

A window in the garden wall

A window in the garden wall

A window in the back of your garden—how cool is that? I zoomed in on the window for another shot.

A rooftop view from the rear patio

A rooftop view from the rear patio

I had looked around enough to decide that the garden needed what I call “definition.” I really didn’t want to start moving those large plants on a hot summer day, so I decided to build the definition around them by using a garden path. Lisa told me about how much the grandchildren loved the hammock in the lower part of the back garden and I decided that this area should be a focal point.

The hammock area needed to be turned into a special place

The hammock area needed to be turned into a special place

There are a lot of rocks in the yard and a great number of them are in the wrong place. When I told Lisa that there were several thousand dollars worth of rocks, she told me that the lady who owned the house previously was 90% blind and that she had a chauffer. Almost every day, the lady would take the chauffer out Horseleg Creek Road and pick up a few rocks. That must have been before all of the development out there.

I appreciated the lady’s work, though, as we were easily able to move enough rocks around to form a double border for a meandering pathway which will provide logical places for meditative garden plantings. Dick and I talked about using pea gravel for the pathway but decided that the area wasn’t quite flat enough to keep the gravel from moving. We decided on ground cypress mulch. I like the way it looks. The mulch will fade out into a grayish brown as time goes by. Since this job will be done in stages, we included turnouts for extending the pathway or for adding benches or statuary.

well-designed pathways add definition to a shade garden

well-designed pathways add definition to a shade garden

The hammock area became the destination for the first pathway. We shaped the area to give space for a garden bench or maybe for a small table and a couple of comfortable chairs. The grandchildren will love it.

The hammock area is turned into a "special place"

The hammock area is turned into a “special place”

Everyone was delighted with the change in the yard. You may compare the following picture to the “before” picture of the entrance that I started this article with.

The garden entrance "after"  we added an ikebana effect with flower pots and St. Francis for a welcome sign

The garden entrance “after” we added an ikebana effect with flower pots and St. Francis for a welcome sign

This is going to be a fun project and will probably take several years to complete—one step at a time. If you want to keep up with all of the projects on johntheplantman, go up to the upper right hand corner of this page and subscribe. You will get a nice gardening article in your inbox almost every week.

Lisa Landry is the owner and operator of Living and Giving which is a wonderful shop in downtown Rome, Georgia. I did an article about the shop a while back which you may see if you Click Here. I probably need to update the article but you’ll get the concept.

And a Word from Our Sponsor:

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

If you want a consultation in your yard in N.W. Georgia, send me an email at wherdepony@bellsouth.net

Preparing for Planting a Shady Border Flower Garden—part one of a series

Judy Kerns Well, a Facebook friend from Darwin, Ohio asked me to do a series of articles on shade gardening. This was good timing for me because I had been studying the border of the yard that I became involved with after getting married a year ago and moving in with my wonderful wife, Dekie. It all worked together. Even though it was over a hundred degrees and a Saturday, I felt good and motivated and my friend Adrian wanted to help so we started putting the project together. I had a lot to work with, too. I had already sprayed the area to get rid of the weeds. Here’s Dekie in her yard for the ‘before’ picture:

shade garden preparation, 'before'  picture

shade garden preparation, ‘before’ picture

One of the first problems associated with planting in the shade is that the soil is usually compacted and full of roots from the trees and shrubs that cause the shade in the first place. The second problem is that these trees and shrubs drink up all the water. I decided that for success with the project, I would install a low volume watering system from the start. This took about two hours but I had already bought the parts which would add a couple more hours to the project. Here’s a picture of the problem. You can see the offending root and the black irrigation pipe:

Roots and compacted dirt are main problems in building a shade garden

Roots and compacted dirt are main problems in building a shade garden

I knew that if I tried to run a tiller or something like that, I would run into problems with roots and rocks. Messing with that would take the entire day, and because I believe in the KISS theory (“keep it simple, stupid), I brought in a lot of compost and raised the areas where I will plant the flowers. The technique is easy, cheap, and it works well. The mounds of compost will be raked out to the proper shape.

add a pile of good dirt or compost to plant in for success in most shady areas

add a pile of good dirt or compost to plant in for success in most shady areas

I like the moisture holding features of cypress mulch much more than pine straw. The cypress chips seem to be cost effective because even though they cost more to start with, they last much longer. The chips also do a good job of holding the compost in place and they turn into dirt when they rot out. Lowe’s had a “cypress blend” for $2.25 per bag and I got twenty of them. Here’s one of the prepared areas. I had turned on the irrigation system prior to raking out the compost so I would be sure that all of it would be watered.

shade garden --rake out the planting area and mulch with cypress chips.

shade garden –rake out the planting area and mulch with cypress chips.

Here is a picture of the border after I installed the chips. It looks a lot better already. I often tell clients that their yard needs “definition.” Definition sure did help the area here. It’s the first of July and I know it is late in the season, but I’m going to plant flowering annuals all along the border and then use every grower’s trick I have learned over the last 35 years to make them flourish and shine.

Notice that Sweetie was hiding in the house when I took this picture. It was 110 outside.

Notice that Sweetie was hiding in the house when I took this picture. It was 110 outside.

I spent last week repairing irrigation systems for people and I spent a lot of time driving from job to job and to lots of stores for parts. I really wanted a lot of impatiens but they just didn’t seem to be available. I didn’t quit, though and I ended up with a couple of flats of plants that really needed attention. They were all wilted an root bound, but a little care and water is bringing them back. I found green leafed begonias and a few other things that I can use. There are some nice coleus that will add a tall background.  I would like to get a few caladiums but they’re still pretty high priced right now. I will probably plant hostas for next year. Actually, right now I’m just playing—but I know it will look good when I get finished.

Collected plants for the shady border flower bed

Collected plants for the shady border flower bed

I plan to add to the shade gardening articles for the next two or three weeks. Stay tuned, or better yet, go to the top right hand corner of this article and sign up to get John The Plant Man sent straight to your email whenever I post an article.

AND REMEMBER

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

If you want a consultation in your yard in N.W. Georgia, send me an email at wherdepony@bellsouth.net

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