It’s a crisp, chilly morning here in my Indiana garden and it feels more like November than December, but December it is. We are expecting snow later today and that is normal for this time of year. In the garden there are plants in different stages of growth. Some have died back for the winter, some are growing underground getting ready to burst forth in the spring, some have set seed or are setting seeds. There are buds everywhere – some won’t open until spring and some are going to be opening soon. For example, the Hellebore known commonly as the Christmas Rose.
The Christmas Rose Hellebore has swollen buds and it won’t be much longer now until it bursts into bloom. Some years I have seen it bloom in late November and some years it waits until mid to late December.
This year I saw three small buds on it. I know this plant likes a little bit of lime in the soil so I am thinking I need to try to mix some on top of the soil before it freezes solid. I pulled some of the fallen leaves back off the buds – and this is a yearly task. Snow and frost typically do not hurt the buds, flowers or leaves of this plant. It is a winter grower and bloomer that often goes dormant in my Indiana garden come summer. Once the Hellebores begin to bloom in November or December the blooms continue until sometime between March and May depending again on our weather. I have many varieties – some named and some un-named. I also finally have seedlings growing. I started planting Hellebores here in August 2004. It has been a journey to get them to grow, flower, set and drop seed but I have found this is the easiest, and most natural way to increase the number of Hellebore plants I have.
While it is possible to grow Hellebore from seed indoors or in a greenhouse environment letting them set seed, drop that seed into your garden and allowing nature to do the work of germination really does work the best for me. As for sowing Hellebore seed, I recommend using the winter sowing method. It is so much simpler in the end.
Another favorite winter blooming plant in my garden is Hamamelis commonly called Witch Hazel. Now these are grown as small trees – or shrubs – depending on how you prune them. They are quite slow growing – but some varieties grow at a faster rate than others. The largest one I have – which is only about 3 1/3 to 4 feet tall was grown from seed. It is a native Witch Hazel with vibrant yellow blooms that look like tiny pieces of confetti. I have two others – both hybrids – Arnold’s Promise and Autumn Embers.
The other two Witch Hazel’s typically bloom anywhere from January through March – again depending on our weather. This morning I noticed that Autumn Ember’s has lots of buds on it. That is typical for this time of year. They are getting fatter too, so I almost suspect the blooms this year are going to happen in January unless we get an extreme cold snap that keeps them dormant longer.
Arnold’s Promise is not showing many flower buds at this point. That too is ok. What I did see was a lot of opened seed pods. I failed to trim them off last year like I should have. Sometimes these things happen in my garden but I am always excited to see little seedlings come up when the parent plant drops seeds. The flowers might be just like the plant they came off of or they could be something different. I find this an exciting part of growing a garden and starting plants from seed.
One other plant in my garden that comes up in the winter months is Arum italicum pictum sometimes called Lord And Ladies. I love this plant for a number of reasons. First it is carefree. Once I planted and established it in my garden I have not had to do anything else – not even divide it yet. It comes up in late autumn or early winter and stays green all winter. I love the arrow-shaped waxy looking leaves, They are marbled and veined in a mixture of cream and grey. I have a real preference for variegated plants and this one is one of my favorites! In the spring erect, finger-like spadix emerge. They are covered with minute yellow flowers and a large, sheath-like, light yellowish-green bract which looks almost cream in color. The bract subtends and partially envelops the spadix. It looks similar to a hood making the plant look like something from outer space! A true aroid flower! The real showstopper though is the bright red cluster of berries this plant produces. These are where the seeds develop. I have never tried to collect the seeds but allow them to mature naturally and drop into the garden where they may eventually sprout.
This plant – like the Hellebores – has been pest resistant in my garden. It is reported to be poisonous although I do not know that for a fact. What I do know is deer, voles and other critters do not mess with it and I have never seen insect damage on it either.