Hellebores First to Bloom

Hellebore 'Peppermint Ice' offers just a hint of pink in its petals.
I love it when the mornings are warm enough to meander through the garden, coffee in hand, looking to see if anything broke through during the night. My coffee chills before I’m ready to come inside, so I set it down and find a sturdy stick to use as a gentle probe, pushing aside leaves and litter to find little surprises. My husband says he sees my lips moving, and I imagine he’s right. A mumbling stream of consciousness sounds like this: “What? Oh. Primrose? Hmm.. Which lily is this? I don’t remember putting this there. Yay! The green peony has six stems!”
Hellebore 'Spanish Flare' blooms with a flair.

After planting my first Hellebores--one with flowers of a magenta color and one of a very deep purple shade, I learned that I much prefer lighter colored flowers because they stand out so much better. After all, they're one of the first blossoms in the garden and it isn't often clement at that time. 

Another feature I've come to love about some varieties of Helleborus is outward facing flowers. While many seem naturally nodding, it's tough for a regular-sized person to see them unless they slither around on their bellies. 

Not that I haven't done this--camera in tow--in order to take photos of these pretty springtime harbingers. Looking to the future, which is coming increasingly closer, I hesitate to assume my body will allow such a posture for much longer. So, with all of the varieties whose flowers show their faces, why waste space with the sulking types?

I added one to my collection last year that looks like it will be an upfacing type. It's from the Winter Jewels series and it's called 'Cotton Candy'. The name is appropriate, as its double petals give it that extra-fluffy look. It seems that the double varieties could have more difficulty keeping their heads up, but
Hellebore 'Cotton Candy' holds its head up quite nicely.

I planted Winter Jewels 'Rose Quartz' in 2014, and it's really putting on a show this year. Even though it hasn't opened its flowers yet, I can see the picotee edges, one of the reasons I chose it.

My latest Hellebore acquisition is one called 'Spanish Flare'. It's part of the Honeymoon Series by Walters Gardens. I planted three that I received from Walters Gardens as a trial. I planted them in different spots in the garden to compare conditions. The one in bloom isn't getting any more or any less sun or moisture than the other two, but it's the only one with a flower. Its leaves suffered a bit of damage to their edges from when it got really warm and returned to really cold. No big thing. The plant will produce more leaves during the summer.

Even before opening 'Rose Quartz' shows off its rose-colored edges.

The $92 Plant

The as-yet-unknown bromeliad at Berridge Nursery.
Some plants are all about the flowers. It certainly can be said about one we spotted while on vacation. Berridge Nurseries was on my list of places to visit while we were in the Phoenix area. The greenhouse contained lots of treasures, including a batch of orchids, a collection of African violets and plenty of nice-looking pots.

We both spotted it at the same time, tucked into a display of foliage plants. The electric flower spike refused to be ignored--it was something we'd never seen before. The tag was vague, indicating it was a bromeliad from Kent's Bromeliad Nursery, a wholesaler located in California. We didn't even know what it was, but my husband had to have it.

We later learned it was Aechmea 'Del Mar', a hybrid by Bullis Bromeliads of Princeton, FL.

My husband paid the proprietor $26 for the plant and asked her to attach a piece of cardboard at the soil level of the pot so that the soil wouldn't escape in case the plant tipped in transit.

I must say here that I advised against it, but I'd already set a precedent when I paid $150 for an intersectional peony and brought it home as a carry-on item from Oregon. But this plant was a different story, I told my smitten spouse. Its leaves have spines that prick you whenever you touch them. And we worried the flower spike would snap off, negating the reason for its finding its way into my plant menagerie. While we continued our vacation, we mulled over the carry-on conundrum.

The situation required a trip to a hardware store, a shipping store, and a Home Depot, where my clever husband found a concrete form tube. The tube was 48" tall, about a foot taller than we needed, so he also bought a reciprocating saw blade (total: $15.87) and a roll of duct tape. He later lost the saw blade and had to buy another ($3.05).

The day before we left to come home, my husband realized he couldn't carry the unwieldy monstrosity--that had turned into a 36" tall, 8" wide tube that weighed around eight lbs.--onto the plane. We went to a local shipper in Sedona. The bill included $3 worth of packing peanuts and came to a total of $47.96 including tax.

He's a bit bummed about the $92 price tag for a plant, but there is only one way to look at it. The flower supposedly lasts for up to six months. For something that pretty/unusual/colorful, it's a bargain, even if we never get it to bloom again.

Freesias Make March Magic

Freesia alba blooms in late winter-early spring.
We came home from a week in Arizona to a heavenly scent. I'd hoped as much, but worried the Freesia alba that was ready to bloom when we left would be cloying and unpleasant.

Actually, I was concerned they'd smell like scented tampons. Years ago, I'd purchased a box of Freesia-scented tampons and hated them. It was as if the scent was emanating from inside my body. Wait a minute! It was!

Anyway, I won't go down that road, which luckily I no longer have to travel. Suffice it to say, adding the chemically-created scent that supposedly mimicked a flower's fragrance was like turning a Led Zepplin song into elevator music. Enough said.

Removed that image from your minds? Good. First, just the vision of this particular Freesia promises good things.

Somewhat succulent and just a touch of sparkle that white, thick-petaled flowers have. The golden centers and fuzzy white anthers add more charm and draw you in for a sniff.

Three stems of Freesia alba.
If the scent and beauty recommendation is enough to make you want to try it, jot it on your calendar for next fall. I planted the 10 Freesia alba corms in one pot in mid-October. Counting back around 18 weeks from planting to bloom, you could plant them through mid-December for flowers as late as May.

Two things I'd recommend for good growth and bloom are lights and soil with great drainage. You'll need supplemental light for these African sun-dwellers.

I used a soil mix that included half good potting soil and half a mixture of chicken grit, perlite and coir.

If you have a soil mix that you use for cacti, add some good compost type potting soil to it and you'll have the perfect mix.

Freesia leaves sprouting after just two weeks.
After planting the pointy corms 2 inches deep (between October and December in the Northern Hemisphere), water lightly and put the pot in a sunny spot. The trickiest thing about growing bulbs in the winter is that, many of them, like Freesia, actually prefer cool temperatures. But cool temps and wet soils are a recipe for fungus. I keep my house around 64 degrees F during the winter. But I use a heat mat for newly planted bulbs, which keeps the soil from remaining in a soggy state. My Freesia corms sprouted in about two weeks, and in a month, the leaves were about 8" high.

Strangely enough, the other varieties I'd planted at around the same time as this one are not doing well at all. My guess is they don't like the pot they're in. For the Freesia alba, I just used a thin plastic pot.