Sunday, February 12, 2012

Of Pine Straw and Hellebores

Gardeners do strange things. Every year I clear leaves from the hardwood trees that shade my yard, then drive several miles to purchase pine tree refuse from a nursery and spread it on the ground. I get satisfaction from this ritual. It instantly transforms the pathways into a uniform reddish brown and sets them apart from  the garden beds, which this time of year are full of decaying leaves and a few early daffodils.

Still, the ritual seems a bit absurd. I am sure that at some future time, people will be amazed at the stupidity of Southerners who spread highly flammable pine straw all over their yards and around their buildings. But the house is going on the market Friday, so this year is not the year to disdain norms of appropriate appearance.

Since I am choosing not to rebel against the realtor who has filled my bathrooms with white towels we can't touch and banished most of the lamps to the shed, I will speak out against the flower breeders who have corrupted one of my favorite flowers.  Hellebores, or Lenten rose, are the joy of my garden in late winter.

Hellebores were born to face down, like bells. They evoke modesty and mystery, with their soft pinkish-purplish white petals.

But our culture doesn't value reserve. People who are loud and outspoken are more entertaining on TV. We like our flowers obvious, too. (Have you noticed the trend toward extremely large blooms on ordinary annuals?) So nurseries are now filled with freakish hellebores with flowers that open upwards.

Hellebores don't look good with their stamens showing - they're unusually plain. So I have none of these expensive freaks. All of my hellebores are descended from one parent. Here is mama hellebore.

I love my hellebores because they're really not mine. They grew from seeds I didn't sow and plants I didn't do anything to care for. Here's how to grow hellebores:

1) Wait until they sprout under the parent plant.
2) Thin the seedlings.
3) In a year or so, transplant them into bare spots in the garden.
4) Ignore them for years.

Hellebores take about four years to bloom. That's another thing I appreciate about hellebores - they refuse to accommodate themselves to our need for instant gratification. Appreciate hidden beauty, they say. Marvel at nature's fecundity. Slow down. Wait for transformation. Live on nature's time, not human time.


linniew said...

I hope the selling/moving is a postitive thing, and that you get to use the white towels eventually. xoL

Ginny said...

Lovely lessons from the hellebore - one of my favorites. Hope the home selling goes well. My daugther and son-in-law are going through the same thing - to the point of putting the laundry baskets in the car and taking them away whenever someone views the house!

Bridget said...

Love the Hellebores, gorgeous colours. Hope your house selling goes well.

Stacy said...

In my experience, Sheila, repressing rebellion in one place just makes it pop out somewhere else. Maybe it's time for a garden gnome or two...?

Your hellebores are so lovely--I've always wanted to grow them but have never lived in a climate where they would happy. You describe them so well, too, along with the razzle-dazzle hype that goes with the "hot" new cultivars. Sometimes simple and quiet really are best, and don't need improved upon.

Hope the home sale goes well!

HolleyGarden said...

I thought they made hellebores that look up so us gardener bloggers could get a face-on picture of them! ;) I hope the house selling goes well - and quick!

Sheila said...

Linnie, we decided to sell our house as part of living a more simple lifestyle, which we hope will include not having a mortgage. But the white towels are complexifying things.

Ginny, I just hope the home sells quickly. It's hard to live in a perfect-looking home. Great tip about the laundry baskets :) Our cars have become storage units of sorts, but I hadn't thought about putting the laundry in them!

Bridget, thanks for the good wishes!

Stacy, I agree about rebellion. I've been considering using the white towels, or sitting on the bed in the guest room which the realtor told us NOT TO TOUCH apparently because of the perfect arrangement of unnecessary pillows.

It's true that hellebores are well adapted to the Southeast climate and probably would not survive in the dry heat of the Southwest or the cold of New England. They're incredibly easy to grow here, and increasingly popular because they are deer-resistant. Simple and quiet are underrated, but I'm biased.

PlantPostings said...

Oh gosh, I'm with you in your love of Hellebores. I don't know what it is about them, but I'm smitten, too. I planted my first one many years ago, and I can't imagine a garden without them now. Enjoy!

Karin / Southern Meadows said...

One of my favorites...mine all come from a fellow Master Gardener who grows them as a hobby. I will have to keep my eye open for these new hellebore with upward blooms. I haven't seen them yet. I love how they hang their heads and look all mysterious and elegant so I don't think I would care for the upward facing breed.

Donna@Gardens Eye View said...

I have to divide my momma this is the year...she is getting so big...and I love how you equate them with patience and not instant gratification...I have planted many and they are taking their time...every year I look and wonder...any flowers this year...the joy in answering yes needs no explanation...