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