Welcome to late winter, that magical season that lasts and lasts! The snowbanks, coated in dingy road grit and spangled with dog droppings, have lost their annoying whiteness, and no one bothers to shovel anymore. Instead we enjoy the long, dark evenings, punctuated by the plink, plink, plink of the leaking roof and the occasional crash as another gutter rips off the house.
At the nursery all our orders for spring are in, and we're starting to receive deliveries of tools, pottery and garden accessories. And although we're still weeks away from being able to receive our first deliveries of live plants, I thought a little preview of what's to come might be welcome.
Helleborus x ballardiae 'Merlin'. Large, outward facing flowers open pink, then mature through dusky plum to deep cranberry. The very dark green leaves are marbled with slightly lighter veining and the stems are reddish, making for a beautiful foliage plant even when not in flower. This group of Hellebores (which also includes 'Icebreaker', 'Penny's Pink', 'Cinnamon Snow' and others) was bred by Josef Heuger in Germany to bloom at a very young age and with an extremely long flowering period.
We had a few 'Merlin' last year and they sold out almost immediately. I snagged one for myself and so far, it appears very vigorous and completely at home here in our Zone 5 garden. A mature clump should measure in the neighborhood of 18" across and 12 to 15" tall. All Hellebores are wonderful garden plants: deer and disease resistant, long-lived, early flowering, evergreen and shade tolerant.
Clematis x 'Guernsey Cream'. I first bought this plant years ago, admittedly because I liked the name, but it's proven to be one of the most reliable Clematis I've ever grown. Very free-flowering and hardy into Zone 4, it's so prolific that I've shoveled pieces off the main root and planted them elsewhere on my property. And it seems less prone to fungal disease than the classic white 'Henryi', which I also love.
The 5" flowers of 'Guernsey Cream' open palest yellow with green central bars, fading to ivory white as the blossoms age. It makes an excellent companion for old roses, and the golden seed heads extend its interest well past the flowering period.
Clematis pruning is a topic that drives gardeners mad, but there's no reason to stress. 'Guernsey Cream' is classed in Group 2, those whose main flush of bloom is borne on the previous year's growth. All I do is trim out some of the weak and broken stems in early spring, then tip the others back to just above a swelling bud. My vines top out at around 8 ft, making it a good choice for a fence or a light trellis.
Euphorbia polychroma 'Bonfire'. This plant has been around for quite a few years now, but I never tire of promoting it... truly one of my Top 10 Perennials (don't ask what the other 9 are). The regular Euphorbia polychroma is sort of a standard old reliable garden stalwart, but 'Bonfire takes it to a whole new level, starting with its emergent colorplay of reddish foliage and lime green flower buds... a real spring tonic! Then it pays its way all through summer with compact mounds of burgundy that need no deadheading, staking or shearing. As fall temperatures drop, the leaves take on tints of violet and bronze that complement Asters to perfection.
My only caveat with 'Bonfire' is that it seems to resent disturbance, even planting, making it a bit of a challenge to establish. But once it takes, it's virtually indestructible. Like all Euphorbias, it has a milky sap that causes skin irritation in some people, so wear your gloves when handling!
Agastache 'Purple Haze'. All the Agastaches are beautiful but most of them are, alas, only hardy to Zone 6 or 7. I admit that I've had a little trouble overwintering this stunning variety, but local garden designer Heather Grimes swears she's kept it for years here with no problem, so I'm going to retry it in a different spot. It's definitely worth a little extra effort to find just the right microclimate so that it overwinters reasonably well.
The tall racemes of smoky blue/purple seem to stay in flower for weeks and weeks and weeks, making it a wonderful high summer complement to Daylilies, Achilleas, Echinaceas and other midsummer perennials that tend toward the warm end of the color spectrum. And I love the foliage fragrance: anise, hyssop or root beer, depending on your nose.
'Purple Haze' is highly deer and rabbit resistant, drought tolerant and a bee and butterfly magnet. Site in a well-drained location with plenty of sun and enjoy the long display!
That's about all for now, folks... just a little taste of things to come. Spring is just around the corner, so keep the faith for a few more weeks and we'll soon all be swamped with outdoor chores, the winter blues behind us for another year.
Welcome to Sempervivum, an opinionated, sometimes informed and completely unqualified journal of gardens, plants and plantings by artist-gardener Robert Clyde Anderson.