Tino Carnevale:

It’s time to cel­e­brate those plants that bring some light and colour to our chal­leng­ing Tas­ma­nian win­ters,

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - NEWS - writes TINO CARNEVALE with Tino Carnevale

Of­fers his tips for grow­ing plants that thrive in our of­ten harsh Tassie win­ters

Iseem to be writ­ing a lot about or­na­men­tal flow­ers this winter and that could be be­cause the ed­i­ble patch is filled with crops that are set and for­get and while that’s func­tional it isn’t al­ways beau­ti­ful.

I think it’s more be­cause I feel the need to give a bit of praise to those plants that can be both­ered to dis­play their cheery blooms at a time of the year when the air bites and the sky feels like a low ceil­ing.

My part­ner Joi in­sisted I write about helle­bores as she con­sid­ers them the stars of our winter gar­den and I tend to agree. They don’t call it the winter rose for noth­ing.

Helle­bores are herba­ceous peren­ni­als which ba­si­cally means they go through an an­nual cy­cle of ex­plod­ing into growth and flow­er­ing, then grad­u­ally dy­ing back into a pe­riod of dor­mancy, ready to re­peat the process next year. Helle­bores are a low grow­ing rhi­zoma­tous plant that forms into a clump, with its many short stems ris­ing sep­a­rately from the ground to sup­port its leath­ery leaves, al­most form­ing a halo in cel­e­bra­tion of its fas­ci­nat­ing flow­ers.

I find helle­bore flow­ers sim­ple yet ut­terly beau­ti­ful.

As plants go, this is a tough lit­tle battler that will cope with a range of con­di­tions, al­though wet feet is its Achilles heel.

This beauty doesn’t come with­out a price though, this plant is very toxic. The Greek-de­rived name lit­er­ally trans­lates to “in­jure food”. Like many plants that pos­sess this poi­sonous qual­ity, helle­bores are ex­tremely un­palat­able so any cu­ri­ous nib­bles will be spat out posthaste.

This plant orig­i­nally comes from the wood­lands so if we join the dots we can guess its favourite spot in your gar­den is the one in dap­pled shade with de­cent enough soil and a good amount of mulch.

As plants go, this is a tough lit­tle battler that will cope with a range of con­di­tions, al­though wet feet is its Achilles heel. Dad jokes aside though, this is a use­ful plant for many gar­dens as it flow­ers when many other plants are rest­ing.

It is good as a sea­sonal bor­der, in rock­eries or pots, but per­son­ally I think they are best mass-planted un­der trees. The only real main­te­nance is a dead­head of the flow­ers once they have fin­ished their dis­play and a later clip of the leaves

at ground level when they are done for the sea­son, usu­ally around late spring.

Joi leaves the flow­ers on quite late as she loves us­ing the mot­tled seed pods in cut flower dis­plays. This also gives me the op­por­tu­nity to col­lect some seed which can be used to create more of th­ese lovely plants, ei­ther raised in pots or sim­ply scat­tered round the gar­den to take part in life’s great gam­ble.

The prob­lem with col­lected seed for the or­na­men­tal gar­den is also one of its great strengths — its vari­abil­ity. This means that you can play around with plant se­lec­tion by en­cour­ag­ing cer­tain fea­tures but it’s not al­ways great if you are want­ing to grow a plant that is com­pletely true to form, ba­si­cally a plant that is an ex­act replica of the one you are want­ing to re­grow.

Di­vi­sion of helle­bores is not only use­ful for cre­at­ing a new plant with the same de­sired fea­tures as its par­ent, it is a good way of re­ju­ve­nat­ing an old, less vig­or­ous clump, and it means you get a much more es­tab­lished plant to pot up.

Di­vi­sion is of­ten done through the sum­mer dor­mancy but I pre­fer to wait un­til later on in the sea­son so hope­fully the com­ing au­tumn rains will do the job of keep­ing them moist. I put a mix of gar­den and dolomite lime down for them come the au­tumn but other than that they might get a bit of pel­letised chicken ma­nure when I throw it around the gar­den in spring.

There are not too many prob­lems when it comes to helle­bores as they are fairly pest-free, in fact if you have prob­lems with bun­nies or pos­sums this is one plant they steer clear of. The main pests are sap-suck­ing aphids, leaf spot and downy mildew.

Th­ese can be usu­ally kept at bay with good gar­den hy­giene, jobs like thin­ning out stems when the plant be­comes over­crowded to create bet­ter air cir­cu­la­tion, di­vid­ing up old clumps, dead­head­ing stressed plants af­ter flow­er­ing to pre­vent plant ex­pend­ing en­ergy on seed production and cor­ing around the plant with a fork in ex­cep­tion­ally wet con­di­tions to get some air around the root zone.

Al­though it pos­sesses such a del­i­cate flower you should not be fooled! Helle­bores are very durable and with re­cent care­ful breed­ing there is an ever wi­den­ing range of sin­gle and dou­ble pe­tal styles and com­bi­na­tions of the core colours of white, green and dark pur­ple to choose from.

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