February Bloomers

Walking around the garden today looking for signs of bloom brought a few surprises among the expected early bloomers. Hellebores, always reliable (and not the least surprising) are a welcome sight as our grey, wintery Puget Sound days slowly lengthen.

Nodding Hellebore, the Lenten Rose, unknown cultivar

Nodding Hellebore, aka Lenten Rose, an unknown cultivar

hellebore-buds5New stems emerge laden with buds over last year’s blackening leaves.  I usually wait to see the swelling buds before cutting away the spent leaves.

When the flowers finally open the newer leaves are still relatively small, which makes them less likely to vie for attention with drooping flowers. Later in the summer the large, heavily serrated leaves are the dominant feature of the plant.

Because of their nodding habit the flowers deserve closer inspection.

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Newer Hellebores showing up in the nursery trade continue ascending upward, as the breeders work mightily to remove their nodding habit from the plant’s history. Droop no more is the Hellebore breeder cry!

Helleborus x ballardiae ‘Cinnamon Snow’ awaiting planting

The recently purchased Cinnamon Snow cuItivar, still in the growers pot in the above photo, stands tall besides the older Hellebore clump. Time will tell if it reverts back to the familiar drooping habit.

While the Hellebores were the stars of the garden, an alpine plant in a four inch pot started blooming early in the greenhouse.

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Gentiana acaulis ‘Holzmannbeginning to open

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This Gentian, Gentiana acaulis ‘Holzmann’ is destined for a new hypertufa trough I’m hoping to get make later this spring.

Erica canaliculata, a South African Tree Heath, too tender to survive reliably in my neck of the woods, continues to bloom in a pot.  Up close the tiny blooms are a nice surprise.

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erica caniculata1We’ve had a few hard freezes this winter that might have threatened the small potted Heath.  Fortunately it was easy to grab the Tree Heath pot and bring it inside our mudroom for protection. In a warmer climate this would be unnecessary.  On the other hand, if you live where it seldom freezes, beware of planting it into your garden. In Northern California, Erica canaliculata has escaped from cultivation and threatens native species.  At the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, in Marin County, it has justifiably earned the reputation as a noxious weed.

South African Tree Heaths

This past February at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show in Seattle I bought two South African tree heaths in four inch pots, potted them on, watered well and hoped to see some blooms.  Erica speciosa and Erica canaliculata are both blooming now!

erica speciosa

Erica speciosa

Erica speciosa reportedly is hardy to 20° Fahrenheit, while Erica canaliculata is a bit more tender, listed as hardy to only 30°

Erica canaliculata

Erica canaliculata

These two plants, from the genus Erica, are endemic (found only in one area of the world) to the Cape Peninsula of South Africa, where apparently over 600 Erica species call home. Up close the blooms are stunning.

Erica speciosa

Erica speciosa

Erica canaliculata

Erica canaliculata

I purchased my plants from the Heaths and Heathers’ booth at the show. Their retail nursery is near Shelton, WA, while their main nursery collection is on Harstine Island just east of Shelton:

“We have built the equivalent of a national collection of heather here open to the public.  There are over 800 cultivars in this 3/4 of an acre planting…our personal collection boasts over 900 different cultivars.  Many heathers bloom for several months. Some offer colorful foliage during the winter. On others, the new growth tips are very colorful during late winter and spring. Heaths and heathers range from nearly flat as a pancake to pincushion size to tree heaths. Most are very hardy and are growing in nearly every state in the union. They take minimum care and are drought tolerant once established.”

I definitely plan to visit the Heath and Heather nursery soon.

Further afield, in California, a hillside of a lavender colored E. canaliculata is terribly invasive and threatens the native plants north of the San Francisco Bay.  A cautionary tale, as Bob Sikora points out in his comment below.  Clearly this Erica — endemic to another continent  and hemisphere — was introduced to the hospitable Bay area climate and prospered to the detriment of the native plants.

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Above photo © Robert Sikora,  available at CalPhotos – a project of BSCIT , University of California, Berkeley

For more on another potentially invasive plant found widely in the nursery trade, see my post on Rosa rugosa ‘Hansa’ Friend or Foe?