It’s the first week of December and the coronavirus may be growing like ivy but indoor gardening remains a safe and healthy antidote to cabin fever and answer to creative gift giving. Local nurseries and garden centers are considered essential businesses (of course they are!) and most offer safe, curbside pick-up and delivery options.
So what plant to buy now? If I could choose just one plant to invest in this month, it would have to be the winter-blooming Hellebore.
I have been trying to start a rumor and spread fake news by reporting that the latest government edict states that everyone must buy at least one hellebore plant this winter. Focusing on the beautiful details of a hellebore petal either indoors or out is a natural way to a healthier mindset. The calming effect of nature’s beauty is not the only reason why I think mandatory hellebore ownership is needed this month.
Five reasons why Washington state needs a mandatory proclamation to invest in Hellebore plants:
1. Our weather is perfect for hellebores — and they make people happy
We live in a climate with cool, cloudy, dark days. This may not be good for most people’s moods but it is perfect for long-lasting hellebore blooms. Now consider that a recent study by Harvard Medical School concluded that fresh flowers make people less anxious and more happy — so blooming hellebores are scientifically proven to raise our spirits. Who doesn’t want that result?
Growing tip: When snow falls on top of your blooming hellebores, you can just let them rest under an insulating blanket of snowfall. Once the snow melts, the crushed and bent stems will straighten up and your hellebores will continue their blooming winter show.
2. Our pollinators need more winter-blooming plants
It is not just the bees that transfer pollen from one plant to another — there are all sorts of flying and crawling insects and birds that do the very sexy business of mixing genetic material from one blossom to another. The cold facts of the matter is these pollinators need help during our winter weather. Enter the hardy hellebores with their pollen-filled blooms opening wide to accommodate winter pollinators.
Growing tip: The cross pollination that goes on out there means if you allow your hellebores to drop seeds then raise these seedlings to adults you will find after a few years that your new plants look different from their parents. Double flowering hellebores might produce offspring with single blooms, white bloomers may parent deep purple or spotted newcomers to your hellebore collection. Nature finds a way to add some diversity to our gardens. We can fight it all we want, but the natural world celebrates change.
3. Hellebores will flower even in the shade
Here in Western Washington, the tall trees that define the Evergreen State tend to cast a shadow over growing many colorful perennial plants. This is not the case with hellebores. This long-lived perennial will bloom beneath cedars, fir, rhododendrons and amongst sword ferns, moss and huckleberry. You don’t have to go out on a limb or even remove limbs to grow hellebores.
Growing tip: Although hellebores adapt to growing in the shade of large trees, they do appreciate a large hole at least two feet wide at planting time with added leaf mold or compost dug into the planting site. Hellebores hate sandy soil in full sun. That would be hellebore hell.
4. Hellebores can handle our dry summer weather
This is one plant that forgives you for going on summer vacation. By mid summer, the blooms on your hellebore will have dried up and the stems can be cut off leaving only the foliage to provide shade for the roots. Now go away for two weeks and don’t water. Unlike many perennials, your hellebores will still be alive when you return. But they will be thirsty so get out the hose and give them a long drink.
5. And finally, they flower December through March — some even into May
There are now so many hellebore varieties, many from wholesale growers right here in Washington, that you can enjoy six months or more of gorgeous locally grown hellebore blooms.
Plus you don’t even need a garden to enjoy them. December is the month when home centers, garden centers and gift shops offer potted hellebores wrapped in festive foil paper for sale as holiday gift plants. Buy a hellebore for yourself, buy a hellebore to give away and just enjoy a potted plant indoors for the holidays (keep it cool and moist) before transplanting it into the garden or enjoying it as an outdoor container gardening plant.
Now if anyone has an “in” with our governor, please tell Mr. Inslee he needs to issue a mandatory mandate to buy, gift and plant more hellebores. We are all in this together — and hellebores are heaven sent.
Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at binettigarden.com.