Monday, February 16, 2009

The Darker Side of Lenten Rose

Over the years in my yard, I've made several attempts at creating a woodland wildflower garden. Having two dogs in the yard has made this particular task difficult. Over time, the dogs' trampling, digging, and shady naps on all the hot summer days has weeded out the Trilliums, Toad Lilies, and ferns from those beds. All that not only survived, but thrived under this abuse was the Lenten Rose.

The early spring flowers of Helleborus orientalis come in a wide variety of colors including creams, pinks, greens, speckles, and purples so dark they could be black. These dark varieties are especially unusual and add great specimen interest to any shade garden. These "black" varieties come in the typical petal type (one layer of petals) as seen in 'Black Diamond'. Even more dramatic is the recently released double-petaled 'Onyx Odessey'. In February's issue of The American Gardener, published by the American Horticultural Society, Doreen Howard mentioned in her article "Plants and Trends for 2009" that she had tested this Lenten Rose variety in her garden. According to her, it was the first in flower and its ivory stamens (Helleborous typically have yellow stamens) provided a great contrast to its dark petals. Howard went on to suggest interplanting with green flowering varieties of Lenten Rose for a nice contrast in the landscape.

So if you're looking for a resilient plant with early blooms and a striking color, don't forget about the "black" cultivars of Lenten Rose.

Helleborous 'Black Diamond':

Helleborous 'Onyx Odessey':

Howard, Doreen G. "Plants and Trends for 2009". The American Gardener. January / February 2009. 18-19. or

Stills, Steven M. Manual of Herbaceous Ornamental Plants: Fourth Edition. 340-341

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Get Passionate About _______!

When you go onto any field in Plant Sciences (Public Horticulture, Landscape Design, Horticultural Production, etc.), the key to success is to find what you're passionate about. Finding your passion will drive you to find the newest and coolest cultivars of the plants you love and install them in your landscapes, gardens, or greenhouses. Some people are passionate about one thing and one thing only, while others may go through phases of collecting all the plants they can't live without. Dr. Armitage has said before that he went through a Salvia phase, and if you are into plants and haven't gone through that yet, its possible you will. Other people may never be able to escape the Salvia phase, but this isn't a bad thing. These salvia nuts are the ones who develop, propagate, and sell all the cool new varieties like Salvia 'Hot Lips' which look like the flower is wearing lipstick. When you plant a new, rare, or unusual plant it sets your landscape or garden apart from all the ones laden with 'Stella de Oro' daylilies and Dwarf Chinese Hollies, but its hard to keep track of unique plants unless you have passion!

Here are some examples of passionate people:

Benny Zhang is originally from Japan, and he creates and sells bonsai trees (or as he calls them, "bonsai art"). When asked why he has taken up a career in bonsai, his response was that he sees bonsai as a way of bringing part of his culture to the West. "This is not a hobby," Benny stated. His business is bonsai: Celestial Gardens, Inc. has been around since 1991, and Benny himself has 20 years of training. "My hands have touched and shaped every bonsai I sell." Passion for artistry and culture is what sets his business apart, which includes more than only selling bonsai trees. He brings the beauty of bonsai to corporations and wedding receptions. For more information on Benny, go to

Benny Zhang and his bonsai art

The gentleman I spoke to from Owen's Orchids (I forgot to ask if he was the Owen or not), had been in the orchid business about 30 years. When asked if developing, growing, and selling orchids was what he had wanted to do originally, he laughed and said, "No!" He actually had a degree in marketing, but orchids had seduced him (as they do many plant lovers) into the industry. A passion for orchids has driven him to develop many new orchids, many of them named for his home town, his friends, and his family. For more information on Owen's Orchids, go to

Representative of Owen's Orchids with an orchid named for his father

Now we get to the inspiration for this blog. I went to find a cool variety from the current plant list, and settled on a dwarf Hinoki Falsecypress that only grew half an inch per year. The one I was looking at was seven years old and not even four inches tall. When I asked for more information, I ended up getting a crash course in variegated, dwarf, and weeping conifers. Jody had a golden umbrella pine he wouldn't part with for less than $500! When asked why he went into the rare conifer industry, he said, "I don't want to sell all the plants you can get anywhere else. They're boring!" Jody's passion for rare conifers has led to him landscaping ten acres of his land with these plants. "I look at it this way," he said, "I've already seen the world. When I'm gone, I'll leave these beautiful plants. By then they should be big enough to propagate and sell or donate or something!" You can learn more about Jody's business at

Jody Karlin with his collection of rare and unusual conifers

So in conclusion, find what you're passionate about -- there's lots to choose from! It will make you more successful in your plant sciences classes (like this one) and in your future career.