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When I started growing  Lenten Roses (Helleborus) almost 30 years ago, white and green flowers were the only colors available.   daffocils_helborusThank plant breeders for these darker strains–seen here with my favorite daffodil, February Gold.daffoils_foliage

My second favorite daffodil, Ice Follies, is blooming early this year.   Most of the time it comes into flower by my niece Becky’s birthday, March 6th.  The flowers have a wonderful fragrance, so I always cut a bunch for the house.daffodil_vaseHere’s another February milestone–

The year’s first cut flowers always end up in the rabbit vase.   A gift from our nephew Bob many, many years ago–the boy is now 6 foot 4, living in Costa Rico and well past his bunny loving stage–it is still a welcome tradition at our house. 

There’s nothing like the first flowers of the new season.  How do you celebrate them?


I grow a lot of old-fashioned flowers.  I like their hardiness, height and they are often sweetly fragrant.  But plant hybridizers (the people who breed plants to create new and improved varieties) have won me over with all their work on Lenten Roses. 

When I first started growing  Helleborus orientalis (common name–Lenten Rose),  flowers were mostly greenish white with a few purple spots.  Now, you can get all sorts of colorful  blooms.   (See the photo above, taken on Saturday in my garden).   You can even find varieties with double flowers.   And you can find them nearby.  This is Helleborus country.  Our climate suits them and some of the top breeders and growers live in the area. 

Pine Knot Farms, just across the Virgina border in Clarksville are world-famous breeders.  I’ve never been to one of their open nursery sale days but I’ve heard they are a mad house (in a good way) with all sorts of  top of the line gardeners clamoring for the latest plants.  

Maybe this is the year I will finally get there.  The Pine Knot sale starts this weekend and Clarksville is not that far. 

Meantime–Melissa and I plan to do some  Helleborus viewing even closer to home at Tony Avent’s open garden. Tony is  a rock-star among gardeners.  A Wake County boy with an international reputation, his open days and garden lectures draw visitors from all over.  I kid you not–people book hotels to see Tony’s garden.   It is just that stunning.  A must see.  

If you are lucky, you will run across Tony as you wander though his garden.  He is super-knowledgeable,  forever young and will always take a question. ( Melissa and I both have crushes on him.)

If you don’t know Tony’s nursery, Plant Delights, check it out  The catalog (usually free to all at the open garden) is great for reading and reference. The pictures are beautiful.   But  Beware.  My friend Kristen,  home recovering from surgery and perusing the Plant Delights catalog, ended up with 800 dollars worth of stuff in her shopping cart.  Tony is passionate about plants and sells their merits very, very well.   (And yes,  Kristen put some back)

Which brings us back to the beautiful new Helleborus hybrids which are also pretty pricey.  I can’t afford many of these lovely plants in my little shopping cart.  But the story has a happy ending.    Once established,  Helleborus drop hundreds of seeds every season.  And those seeds make new plants.  

So check out the high-priced hybrids but don’t feel compelled to buy.    If you’re new to Helleborus, do what Melissa did.  Find a gardener who already grows them, and take home a few baby plants to try. 

Helleborus love to live under tall deciduous trees in my little North Carolina forest.   I give them good soil (improved) , organic fertilizer every March (Plantone)  and water when they are flattened by drought.   In return, they give me glossy foliage year-round and months of late winter bloom.  What a deal.

Picking January Flowers--Camellia and Prunus mume

Everyone has flowers in the spring and summer–but winter flowers are special.  They break up the grey landscape, bring the outdoors in, and to me they feel like progress–the passing of the season, the coming of more. 

They also remind me of my progress as a gardener.  On this last Monday in January, there are 6 kinds of plants blooming in my garden.  It didn’t start out that way.  I bought the color where I saw it–flats from the Harris Teeter, the Lowes.  I made hundreds of impulse purchases–better make that thousands–before I started building a garden that would bloom for me year around.  

So what’s blooming today? 

Camellias and Prunus Mume from my favorite local nursery, Camellia Forest.  The Parks family (yes, the same Dr. Parks who taught blog-partner Melissa botany at UNC) are geniuses.  Nationally know camellia breeders, they have introduced countless new camellia hybrids to the world.  Their plants are tough, well-grown and handle transplant really well.  In the horrible drought a couple summers ago, none of my Camellia Forest plants died.  The nursery  also offers a number of Asian plants (Prunus mume for one) which are hard to find.    Check them out at if you’re ready to move beyond the limited selection at the big box store. 

Wintersweet– May be  my favorite winter plant.  One–because I grew mine from seed, my first big success.  And two because it lays down these wonderful  patches of fragrance on sunny days like today.   I love my Wintersweet so much,  last year I made a video about it and put it on YouTube.  (link TBA)

Aromatherapy for outdoor chores--Wintersweet on 1/25/2010

Rijnveld’s Early Sensation Daffodils have bloomed as early as January 1st for me.  Because of our cold weather over the holidays, this year’s first blooms arrived last week.  Who doesn’t love yellow daffodils?

Bearsfoot Helleborus–also a long ago purchase from Camellia Forest.  I love green flowers and this one blooms for two months or more. 

Pansies and  Violas–Not a lot of landscape impact this month–they’re too small.  Still–it’s nice to cut blooms for the house and they’ll look like a million bucks in a month or two.  But so will a lot of other flowers.  In January–the dead of winter, every little bit of color stands out.  

So what’s you’re favorite source of winter color?  And another important question for Carolina gardeners–what do you see when you look out  of your kitchen window this month?

A long-time gardener and a passionate beginner share the dirt on their NC gardens-

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