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All Hail The Hellebores

All Hail the Hellebores
By Paul James
I’ll never forget the first time I planted hellebores. It was maybe 25 years ago, and I stuck six of them in a semi-shady spot beneath a Japanese maple. Although the foliage was certainly attractive (and evergreen), there was nothing about the plant that was especially remarkable. Then one day in late February, after a dusting of snow, I spotted the hellebores. They were covered in colorful blooms, at a time when most everything else in the garden was still sound asleep. That’s when I fell in love with hellebores.
Hellebores are called Lenten Roses because their rose-like blooms typically appear in early spring around the Christian observance of Lent.
Growing Hellebores
Although they’re often described as a shade plant, hellebores will flower much more readily and prolifically if they get just an hour or two (or maybe even three) hours of morning sun, which makes them ideal for planting alongside Japanese maples, azaleas, and hydrangeas, as well as all the shade-loving perennials listed below. Rich, well-drained soil is ideal, and if that doesn’t describe what you’ve got, mix a bagged, composted product (FoxFarm Happy Frog is great) 50/50 with your native soil. Water weekly in spring, but only monthly in summer as the plants go dormant, only to grow back for years to come.
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Made for the Shade
Shade gardens don’t shout the way gardens full of flowers in full sun do. Instead, they whisper, and with a voice that’s soothing, even a tad sensual. Here are just a few stars of the shade garden.
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The number of Hostas available these days is staggering, from quite small to quite large, with foliage in every shade of green imaginable -- plus blue and gold and white -- and with leaf textures ranging from smooth to ruffled to crinkled to puckered. And they grow incredibly well here despite the fact that they’re native to Japan, China, and Korea. They’re also known as Plantain Lilies, and their flowers, which appear on tall stalks, are a favorite of hummingbirds.
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Newly emerging hosta leaves are popular in Japanese cuisine. Known as urui, the leaves are eaten raw, boiled, and fried, tempura style.
I absolutely adore ferns, because even in the middle of our crazy hot and dry summers, they take me to a place (in my mind, that is) where the air is cool and a mist blankets the forest floor. Although some varieties will spread, from slowly to rapidly, most do not. One of my favorites is the Autumn Fern, because it’s not only incredibly hardy, but evergreen as well. And you absolutely must have at least one Japanese Painted Fern.
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Who says you can’t have fabulous flowers in the shade? Well certainly not fans of Astilbe, who know that these moisture-lovers provide an explosion of color as their feathery flower plumes rise above fantastic, fern-like foliage. Colors range from pure white to soft pink, to deep purple to crimson red, with heights from one to four feet.
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Heuchera (aka Coral Bells)
I can’t think of another category of shade plants that’s undergone such a rapid rise in popularity in recent years, thanks in no small part to the amazing number of new introductions. And they’re incredibly easy to grow even in poor soils so long as drainage is decent. Although grown primarily for their incredibly colorful foliage (in silver, purple, nearly black, lemon yellow, chartreuse, orange, and more), they produce beautiful blooms in summer that are prized by bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Close relatives include Tiarellas and Heucherellas.
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Bleeding Hearts
Named for their distinctive, heart-shaped flowers, these beauties boast beautiful foliage as well. Under ideal conditions -- rich, well-drained soil in shade -- plants can grow up to three-feet tall and wide. Flowers are usually pink with white tips, although pure white varieties are available. Their bushy clumps of foliage may die back in summer, but no problem -- just pop in a few annuals (impatiens, begonias) to fill the gaps.
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Years ago, I planted three Columbine plants, and within three years I had three times as many clumps of these fabulous, spring-flowering plants. That’s because they reseed -- not to the point of being invasive, mind you, but to the point of eliciting a smile. And the new plants that pop up may well produce a different flower color, which is part of the fun of growing them.
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The Latin name for Columbine is Aquilegia, which translates to the word eagle, a reference to the spurs of the flowers that look like the talons of an eagle.
Solomon's Seal
Solomon’s Seal deserves a spot in every shade garden, especially the variegated version, whose rich green leaves are narrowly edged in white. The arching, reddish tinted stems are covered with white, bell-shaped flowers in spring that seem to drip from the stems. Plants will spread ever so slowly but form tight, well-behaved clumps. Moist soil is ideal.
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Japanese Forest Grass
Nearly all ornamental grasses require full sun. Japanese Forest Grass is an exception, and it’s positively exceptional. It definitely ranks among my top ten favorite plants, thanks to its wispy blades. I especially like the variety ‘All Gold.’ Plants don’t always look all that great in nursery pots, particularly in early spring, but once in the ground they’ll show their stuff in no time. Great in containers, too.
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Minor Players
Less well known but worthy of inclusion in any shade garden, here are a few of my favorites, all of which are perennial.
Japanese Toad Lily
Fabulous flowers that appear in late summer to early fall, this makes a dynamite addition to the shade garden. Just make sure the soil never dries out.
Large glossy leaves that start out green and go bronze in fall make this beauty stand out in the garden, and its spring flowers (in pink, red, or white), held aloft on stiff stems, add to the show.
This terrestrial orchid boasts swordlike foliage and show-stopping pinkish-purple flowers that appear on tall stalks in April to May.
Among the more popular groundcovers that prefer shade are Ajuga, English Ivy, Liriope, Moneywort, Mondo grass, Pachysandra, and Vinca minor. You can’t go wrong with any of them, and all are reasonably priced by the flat.
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If you're familiar with our sale pottery area, we have good news. We have extended the sale area to include EVEN MORE pottery at 50% OFF! If you've been dreaming up your porch pots for spring, now is the time to buy.
Events at Southwood
Save The Date
Our annual fundraiser for the Oklahoma Food Bank, Plant-a-Row For The Hungry, will take place on Saturday, March 25th and Sunday, March 26th. More details to come, so stay tuned!
Let Us Pot it For You!
If you have any plants at home in need of repotting, let us help! Between March 16th and March 20th, if you purchase a pot from us for a plant you already have, we will repot it into its new pot for free! And if you purchase a houseplant AND a pot from us? We will always repot it for free. 

Garden Tip of the Week

Although deer and pest resistant, all parts of the hellebore are poisonous. When trimming older leaves, it’s best to wear gloves because the sap is a skin irritant.

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