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A Tough Plant for Tough Times


This is the year of the hellebore, at least in my garden. I have about a dozen now, with several of the lime-green ones being self-sown seedlings that have turned into grown-ups that now produce flowers. The others are rosy-red (sold as pink) and the color contrast is pleasant. So far there has been no “intermarriage” or “promiscuity” among them, so green is staying green and rose is staying rose.

Pink and mauve Helleborus x hybridus with light green foliage plays well with purple-red Euphorbia on a slope at the Scott Arboretum, Swarthmore, Pa. Photo: Charlotte Kidd

I wonder if there is any hardier spring perennial on the planet — or at least on this part of the planet. As soon as I felt inspired to venture into the garden this spring (a journey I usually make in mid-March, but this year March found me still ensconced indoors with a hot cup of tea), I went rummaging around in the mulch, and sure enough, I saw hellebore buds just beginning to poke their noses through the ground.

When it got a little warmer, it was time for the annual hellebore maintenance — cutting off last year’s leaves. That’s it. Nothing more to do.

Hellebores aren’t cheap, but the Helleborus orientalis I have (sometimes sold as Helleborus x hybrida) will last and last. It’s also sometimes called the Lenten rose. There’s another hellebore called the Christmas rose (Helleborus niger), but it doesn’t put out as many flowers, and I think it’s not as hardy. Better to spend your pennies where they will do some good.

Now there are double-flowered hellebores and two-toned varieties on the market, who knows what goodies the breeders will come up next? I’m saving my pennies.

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questions

I have a nicely sheltered, rounded 7-foot tall Japanese red maple on the southeast corner of my backyard. Half of the tree has lost its leaves, the formerly red bark is turning gray, and a good-sized square of bark has been stripped off on the side that faces the yard. I sprayed the exposed bark with black pruning spray to close any entry for insects. I have not cut off any of the branches.

Does the winter have any effect on the tree? Should I look for some insect infestation? What should I do now?

After a summer outside, my clivia has returned indoors. Last year it had only one puny flower. What treatment should I give it over winter to bring it into bloom?

From what I have read, hellebores are supposed to spread. I have a few I planted four years ago, and they seem to be the same as when I planted them. They are planted in a bed of vinca. Should I remove more vinca that surrounds them? I do fertilize them and protect them with a winter mulch. What else should I be doing to have more plants?

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