Northern Shade Gardening

My Favourite Hellebore

Friday, April 30, 2010 Category: Perennials

Helleborus ‘Walhelivor’ (Ivory Prince) is a terrific hellebore, with upward facing flowers and distinctive foliage. They look attractive in the garden, from when the snow first melts in spring, until the next winter’s snow covers them up. You couldn’t ask for more from a plant.

Helleborus 'Walhelivor' (Ivory Prince) pretty buds

Helleborus 'Walhelivor' (Ivory Prince) pretty buds

The Ivory Prince flowers are very attractive in all stages, from bud to faded bloom. In the above photo you can see the pretty buds, with a delicate pink outside. The buds are large and showy, making a beautiful sight before they even open. When they first appear, shortly after the snow recedes, the flower buds are a deep rose colour, and then the colour lightens as they start to open.

Helleborus 'Walhelivor' (Ivory Prince) and Chionodoxa

Helleborus 'Walhelivor' (Ivory Prince) and Chionodoxa

Here is a cluster of flowers that  have just opened, most are still buds. Inside the bracts, they are a creamy colour with green tinges. The complex multi-hues of ‘Walhelivor’ blooms make make them interesting to study. The flowers face upwards and sideways, so it is easy to see them, without having to turn the flowers over, unlike many hellebores. The actual flowers are the little part within the large decorative bracts, but the whole package looks like a large flower. After the small flowers inside decline, the sepals continue, so it looks like the flowers last a long time. In zone 3, these flowers start in April and continue until June. They are the first perennials to bloom in spring in my garden.

In the back of the picture above, there are  some white Chionodoxa (glory of the snow) bulbs flowering at the same time as the Helleborus. You can also see the decorative burgundy red stems of the hellebore.

Helleborus 'Walhelivor' (Ivory Prince) back of flower

Helleborus 'Walhelivor' (Ivory Prince) back of flower

This photo shows the beautiful pink striations on the back of these flowers, with a cream border.

Another decorative part of Ivory Prince is the nicely shaded leaves. They have a faint marbling pattern to them, a good shape, and a stiff texture. Surprisingly, these leaves leaves survive under the winter snow, giving a quick start to this zone 3 garden when the snow melts in spring. Even if they didn’t have those pretty blooms, I would still grow the Helleborus ‘Walhelivor’  for the early greenery in a cold climate.

Here is an earlier post with more photos and information about Helleborus ‘Ivory Prince‘, and here are some photos showing how good the Helleborus still look in late fall.

Gorgeous Iris reticulata Cantab

Tuesday, April 27, 2010 Category: Bulbs
Iris reticulata 'Cantab' (dwarf iris) long view

Iris reticulata 'Cantab' (dwarf iris) long view

The dwarf Iris reticulata ‘Cantab’ bulbs produce gorgeous blooms of blue in spring. Although the plants are only 8 cm (3  in) tall, the flowers are large and put on a great display.

Iris reticulata Cantab blue dwarf iris group

Iris reticulata Cantab blue dwarf iris group

The exquisite blooms of Iris reticulata ‘Cantab’ have a brilliant blue colour scheme.  The petals are reminiscent of their relatives, the larger bearded iris. The three falls (lower petals) are highlighted by a small yellow speckled band in the centre, while the three standards (upright petals) are solid blue. There are also three long style crests that extend over the lower petals. If you lift the flap of the style crest, you can see the yellow band extending all the way to the base of the petal, making an entry way for pollinators. These blooms look fantastic from a distance, or when studied up close.

Iris reticulata Cantab blue dwarf iris by mockorange

Iris reticulata Cantab blue dwarf iris by mockorange

The dwarf iris blooms last a few weeks, and then the plants fade back for the season, to reappear next spring, unless they produce lots of little bulbs that don’t flower. I have mine planted at the base of a mockorange shrub. It works well, because the bulb iris are blooming now, while the shrub is mostly bare and the leaf buds are just breaking. The pretty iris blooms bring the bare area at the bottom to life. When the iris have faded, the shrub will have leafed out and taken over the space.

Iris reticulata 'Cantab' blue dwarf iris

Iris reticulata 'Cantab' blue dwarf iris

There are shade perennials in front that are just starting to appear,  so they don’t block the iris flowers now, but they will grow to block the view of the fading iris foliage, after they are done blooming. In front are some Brunnera macrophylla (Siberian bugloss), Athyrium (ferns), Pulmonaria (lungwort), and Asarum (wild ginger). All are still shorter than the iris.

Iris reticulata 'Cantab' (dwarf iris) blue petals

Iris reticulata 'Cantab' (dwarf iris) blue petals

These bulbs are layered around shrubs, with perennials in front, to pack as much flowering time into the space as possible. I’ve grown them next to peonies before, which also do a good job of covering the old iris foliage after flowering.

Iris reticulata 'Cantab' (dwarf iris) pretty group

Iris reticulata 'Cantab' (dwarf iris) pretty group

I grew Iris reticulata ‘Cantab’ and ‘Harmony’ at my last garden, but after a few years or so, the bulbs fade out, and don’t produce as good of a show. I planted these bulbs last Fall, and I’m going to see if I can get them to establish for longer this time, but I might have to replant.  Although their bloom time each spring is short, the wonderful flowers are worth it. With later rising perennials planted in front of them, there doesn’t have to be a bare space when their season is over.

Iris reticulata 'Cantab' and Crocus 'Yellow Mammoth'

Iris reticulata 'Cantab' and Crocus 'Yellow Mammoth'

There is a group of forty dwarf iris here. I’m going to expand the group next Autumn with another forty or fifty bulbs to one side, behind some Pulmonaria (lungwort) and over to an Aruncus (goat’sbeard). Both perennials are still very small in April, so there is space for some more pretty blue bulbs behind them. The crocus ‘Yellow Mammoth’ are flowering at the same time in the next garden bed over. I’m going to include some of those golden bulbs with the extension. I made a composite photo of the Iris and crocus colour combination. After waiting all winter, I take delight in the explosion of colour when the bulbs start to bloom.

Iris reticulata Cantab dwarf iris blue and yellow

Iris reticulata Cantab dwarf iris blue and yellow

Charming White Spring Bulbs

Saturday, April 24, 2010 Category: Bulbs
Chionodoxa 'Alba' (white glory of the snow) in light

Chionodoxa 'Alba' (white glory of the snow) in light

Here are three tiny spring bulbs that add enchanting white blooms to the  garden.  Chionodoxa ‘Alba’ (white glory of the snow), Galanthus elwesii (Snowdrops), and Puschkinia scilloides (striped squills) are hardy, and will bloom through late frost and snow. Only the crocus manage to flower before them in my garden. These bulbs can take some shade too, so they work well under the trees.

Galanthus elwesii (snowdrop) inner markings

Galanthus elwesii (snowdrop) inner markings

The Galanthus elwesii are these first of these white spring bulbs to bloom in my garden. The miniature blooms are so enticing, that I always have to bend over to see the perfect little petals. The outer white petals flare out to either side, exposing the little green markings on the inside ones. The snowdrop above has two crossing light sabers on those inner petals. These dainty bulbs need to be viewed up close to be appreciated, since they only  grow about 16 cm (6  in ) tall.

These Galanthus elwesii are the first snowdrops to thrive in my garden. Previous plantings of other types have not done well. I have planted more G. elwesii for the last two Autumns, but they are not filling in yet. They don’t all seem to come up, leaving the grouping a little sparse. I hope they spread a little more next year, but I am happy to see any Galanthus blooming at all. I’ve greatly admired pictures of large swathes of snowdrops planted through woodlands. However, I might need another 9970 to get up to official swathe size. :)

Galanthus elwesii (nowdrop) over Helleborus foliage

Galanthus elwesii (nowdrop) over Helleborus foliage

Snowdrops shrug off a late spring snowfall, continuing to bloom without stopping. This patch is in between some Helleborus and some Aruncus (dwarf goat’sbeard). The white snowdrops look great next to the evergreen leaves of Helleborus, even though the bloom times don’t overlap in my garden.

Galanthus elwesii (snowdrop) over Aruncus foliage

Galanthus elwesii (snowdrop) over Aruncus foliage

I admire the Galanthus elwesii flower in the above photo, blooming over the soft, new Aruncus foliage. I have different varieties of snowdrops, with distinctly different green markings on the inner petals, but they are not named varieties.

Chionodoxa 'Alba' (white glory of the snow)

Chionodoxa 'Alba' (white glory of the snow)

Chionodoxa ‘Alba’ is the all white version of glory of the snow, which is usually seen in its more common lavender and blue colours. I grow a blue type too, Chionodoxa luciliae. Unlike snowdrops, these  simple flowers face upwards, making it easy to see the blooms. Because of their size, they look best in larger groupings, or near an entrance way, where they can be admired up close. I like the white version in the shadowy areas, because the light colours show up well. Even though they are small, I can see the white patch as I view them through my windows.

Chionodoxa 'Alba' (white glory of the snow) with buds

Chionodoxa 'Alba' (white glory of the snow) with buds

The Chionodoxa flowers are very simple, with six elongated petals. They are about 14 cm (5.5  in) tall when they flower. The leaves are very long and narrow, like all of these bulbs, and disappear reasonably quickly after the flowers have faded. The surrounding perennials quickly hide the decaying foliage as they grow, and their flowers will replace these ones.

Puschkina scilloides 'Libanotica' (striped squills) petals closeup

Puschkina scilloides 'Libanotica' (striped squills) petals closeup

The Puschkinia (striped squills) are available in both a white form and a white with blue stripes form.  Puschkinia scilloides ‘Libanotica’ are not pure white, but have a light blue stripe down the middle of each petal. They have an overall white appearance from a distance, but a pale blue look up close. The Puschkinia scilloides ‘Alba’ are the white version of the blue striped squills. However even on those, you can see the faintest blue stripe down the middle of each petal, when you view them up close.

Puschkina scilloides 'Libanotica' (striped squills) buds

Puschkina scilloides 'Libanotica' (striped squills) buds

Here are the adorable buds of Puschkinia scilloides ‘Libanotica’. I find the tight buds as attractive as the open, frilly flowers. The striped squills are a more robust looking bulb than the other two, with more petals packed in clusters. These stand about 20 cm (8  in) tall. They are the showiest of the small bulb flowers, with the most number of petals packed into the space. The Puschkinia bulbs bloom at the same time as the Chionodoxa.

These charming white  spring bulbs are fun to admire up close, when so few other plants are blooming, or even sprouting. You can savour their lovely white blooms, before the overwhelming rush of summer flowers. Do you have any favourite early spring blooms?