Marty's Garden, March 13th, 2022
Today the clocks jumped forward, giving us an extra hour of daylight. Not everyone likes daylight savings time, but I haven't met a gardener yet who doesn't appreciate the extra hour of light. Not only that, but next week is also the end of winter. This winter was supposed to be harsh, and I dreaded it. While it has been very cold at times, we didn't get much show. Each time when precipitation was in the forecast temperatures headed up and we got rain instead of snow. A few times we had snow, but never anything significant. Yesterday we got a few inches of snow but since temperatures are heading up into the sixties, this too will be short-lived.
Meanwhile in my garden the first flowers are in bloom. Iris reticulata ‘Catherine Hodgkin’ bloomed for a short period of time; so fragile on the slope of the waterfall, wind did the flowers in again. I really should move these to a more sheltered location. Crocus ‘Orange Monarch’ planted this fall, peeked up for a day or two and was promptly buried in the snow. We’ll see in a few days if they came through unscathed or if I must wait for next year for a grander show. I also planted two varieties of snowdrops last fall; in the backyard the first ones bloomed with a delicate white bell. These flowers shrug off cold and snow and I have no doubt they will be in full bloom through the next weeks.
Then there are the Hellebores, or Lenten rose; a very hardy and long-lived perennial which develops into substantial clumps over the years. A lot of my current Hellebores came out of my New Jersey Garden, others were bought when I couldn’t help myself to have just one (or two) more. At first my Hellebores were unhappy because of overly sunny spots, but by now trees and shrubs are providing dappled shade, making them much happier. Over time the heavy clay soil is also improving through decaying mulch and added compost, making for a better environment for these plants. In winter I cut each plant back rigorously, although making sure the developing buds close to the soil line are untouched. Since Hellebores can develop black spot on their leathery leaves, I throw out the tattered foliage rather than composting it. Then it is just a matter of being patient for better weather as the buds start to rise, unfurl and stems grow taller. Soon enough (although sometimes not soon enough!) I have a grouping of flowers which shrug off cold, ice or snow and remain beautiful for weeks on end. Once the flowery show is nearing its end, new foliage grows, giving you a more substantial plant than the year before. Most likely you will find seedlings surrounding the parent plant in the months to come. Their reseeding is never obnoxious with unwanted seedlings spreading far and wide, but a gentle surprise. Since Hellebores hybridize freely (you might call them promiscuous) you may get something different from the parents. If not, you will have additional plants to move around in the garden or to share with friends.
The few seedlings I have started in the basement are growing well. I will even go as far as to say my sweet Cuban chili pepper seedling is turning into the most beautiful plant I have ever grown. My Datura or Angel’s trumpets still have a long way to go to six-foot plants, but they too are steadily growing and will be potted up in larger containers soon. In early June they will go outdoors and then I will wait, impatiently, for the orange flowers to appear.