Hellebore Plant or the Christmas Rose

Hellebore Plant or the Christmas Rose

Recently, while hurrying in from shopping just before my celebration of Christmas, I was amazed to find a plant in bloom despite the cold winter temperatures. In fact with night time getting to -3 Celsius and highs during the day of +2, most of the plants in my garden have long died or frozen. Certainly the white blooms that bobbed in the cold winter winds caught my eye and then after a few pictures, led me to check on this plant which was new to my garden and whose name I remembered to be  Hellebore plant or the Christmas Rose.


Day before Christmas garden surprise

Day before Christmas garden surprise


Hellebore Plant general Information

This Genus of plants, from the Ranunculaceae (or buttercup) Family, are early-flowering, generally poisonous perennial plant that has large divided leaves. According to folklore hellebore was used in 585 BC. , to poison the Greek city of Kirrha’s water supply, leaving the troops weak with diarrhea and unable to defend  the city  and it is even suspected in the death of Alexander the Great.

Native to much of Europe and parts of Asia, these plants are found naturally growing in areas of England, Spain, and Portugal. They also grow wild along the northern coast of Turkey with the greatest concentration in the Balkans. In North America, based on plant temperature zone, these plants are grown successfully hardy from as low as Zone 4 to the warmer zone 8.

The Hellebores, originally 16-20 species, were valued for their winter and early spring flowers and still are today.  Classic species were known for their drooping white, pink, dark purple, sometimes green flowers on plants which generally grew 12-15 inches tall. These flowers are made up of 5 petals that are not typical, but are unique modified sepals that support the real flower which is in the centre of the “petals”. The hellebore’s real flower is a ring of small cup like petals called nectarines.

sepals and nec

sepals and nectaries


Nectaries are special cup or tubular like petals that contain glands that secrete nectar to entice insects, especially bees. This sugary substance not only provides an important food source for the bees in cooler weather, but attracts them for the purpose of pollinating the plants themselves. Both the nectaries and the sepals last a long time and then fall of similarly to petals falling off a rose.

Species/Hybrid colours

Highly valued for their colder weather flowers, Hellebores are now grown and planted with increasing popularity. As a result originally with 20 species, now breeders have begun hybridization of the original 20 species to mass produce an increasingly wide variety of plants with different colour blooms and petal combinations, including double flowered varieties. Now colours range from dark purple through to different shades of green, with multi -toned and even speckled blooms. Of course there are still many amazing single bloom specimens too!


solitary bloom

solitary bloom

bloom in snow

bloom in snow







H. Argutifolius or Corsican Hellebore is widely grown for its pale green star shaped flowers and leathery foliage. In my garden, I have the very popular Hellebore Plant or the Christmas Rose, official known as H. Niger. This plant white has pure white flowers in winter, specifically near Christmas  In fact, the blooms on mine opened the day before Christmas and now are covered in snow, barely alive on this January 1, 2013.


Boxing Day after storm

Boxing Day after storm


H. Orientalis, which is commonly known as Lenten Rose based on the plant’s seasonal flowering time near Easter, has flowers that range from white to creamy yellow. Originally found in the Ukraine, this species is not commonly found in gardens, but is used to create new subspecies due to its hardiness and the ease of which it adapts to new colour formations. Currently the Orientals and hybrids are increasing in popularity and they are seen in gardens everywhere.



Hellebore Orient

Hellebore Orient



Growing Hellebores

Hellebores are readily found at your local garden centres or perhaps you are lucky enough to have a friend who will split you off a starter plant in late spring or early fall. The plant may be added to your garden in the summer as well, but as they prefer shade and consistent levels of moisture they will need much closer attention if that is your planting time.




Hellebore plants can grow in any type of soil, but thrive best in soil that is well draining as they do not like to have soggy roots. Once established however Hellebore plants are quite drought tolerant. In addition, they like soil is rich in nutrients, especially organic matter.


Before planting anything, knowing your soil type is important.  If you want a complete analysis of your soil, there are test kits for general info and site where it can actually be sent away for a complete breakdown in to elements such as Sodium (Na+) etc. For most of us, knowing if the soil is sandy or clay in composition as well as the basic pH, that is good enough.

If you have heavy clay soil, adding some grit, such as sand and mixing them together well with organic matter will provide better drainage as well as basic nutrients. For sandy soil, adding some heavier clay based soil or clay pellets will help prevent the water from running through too quickly.


In either case, it is reported in quite a few articles, that Hellebore plants prefer alkaline soil. This means earth with a pH of over 7.0. However, unless you know the pH of your soil, adding too many additives can cause more problems than it solves. One article I found stated they preferred 7.0 which is in fact a neutral pH and says Hellebores grow fine near evergreens. Evergreen trees and their fallen needles make the soil pH lower than 7.0, but should not be a problem.

Again, testing for pH can be done with a kit purchased at many garden centres. If you need to bring it up, dolomite Lime is suggested and to lower the pH, sulphur is recommended. Certainly checking with the garden centre  were you buy these  products  is best before adding, as the amount needed depends on the test results and the area of soil you plan to adjust.


Before planting, adding organic compost, such as manure, leaf mold, mushroom compost or lovely rich homemade compost and mixing it in to the soil well will always give any plants a good start. Once they are beginning to show signs of new growth, adding bone meal or a slow release fertilizer will help once the plants are established and before the height of summer’s heat arrives.




Light Requirements

Again, there are differences in opinion here. Generally however, Hellebore plants prefer partial shade and not the midday sun for hours. Suggested locations for planting are near deciduous trees for several reasons. First these trees provide a break for hot sun during the summer and secondly once their leaves fall off, the plants will be able to take advantage of the reduced strength of the sun in the fall and winter months.

Planting near evergreen hedging or rows of conifers, provides a break against the dry and biting cold of winter winds. Provided the hellebore is planed with half a day of reasonable light the plant should be fine.


Hellebore plants are susceptible a few disease including   blight mold and crown rot fungal as well as Black Spot and Black Death.  Both Black Spot and Black Death cause blacking on the leaves, but the Death is far more fatal. If you see darkening of the leaves or any disease at all, examine the plant closely, make notes and then head straight to a horticultural expert!


Hellebore Black Death is a serious disease of hellebores, probably caused by a newly discovered virus, where plants become stunted, deformed and marked by black streaks and ring patterns. This viral disease causes stunting and distortion. In addition, it causes black streaking and netting patterns on the leaves that can also develop on the stems and flowers. All infected plants should be dug up promptly and destroyed as there is no known treatment that controls Black Death.


Black Death

Black Death


Black spot is generally known as leaf spot and in this plant is caused by the fungus Microsphaeropsis hellebore.  The fungus infects leaves and stems giving rise to roughly round dead, brown spots. Remove all affected leaves promptly and destroy them so they will not be a source of re-infection in the next gardening season. In addition there are also fungicides available at garden centre, which can be effective on Hellebore plants.


Hellebore plants are good eating for aphids, mice, slugs and snails. These all prefer the seedlings found from this self-seeding plant as well as the buds on mature plants. Sprays are available for aphids, and traditional course grit may prove to be effective against snails and slugs.

Personal Experience


Despite everything, most plant experts agree that hellebores are generally trouble-free, but it pays to be aware of possible problems. As with many other family of plants good breeding practises have resulted in many new varieties that are easy to care for and resistant to most pests and diseases. All this being said, I still love my Hellebore Plant or the Christmas Rose.

Armed with my new found knowledge and an ever increasing fascination of the inspiration gardens have over me, I intend to try several other species of Hellebore plants this coming spring and hope you will too!



Just a few Hellebore            flowers

Just a few Hellebore flowers



Pelee Island Trip

Pelee Island trips can  be wonderful and defiinately an adventure as mentioned previously, when I  found poison ivy there. This noxious weed is only one among countless found on this quaint island. Certainly the entire island cannot be appreciated in one day, but I did see lovely woodlands, stunning beaches and heard many songbirds. In addition to being a calm, natural spot, I found it oddly exhilarating being at the southernmost tip of Canada.


Wikipedia Pelee Island Aerial


Pelee Island Trip

My Pelee Island trip began from Leamington Ontario, home of the Big Tomato Information booth and the largest number of greenhouses in Canada. Despite how much I enjoy Ketchup on fries, I spent no time viewing the area or its tomatoes before heading to the docks. There I boarded the Jimaan Ferry for a 1 hr. and 45 minute trip to the main dock on the island’s west side.


Pelee Island Ferry

The ferry sold a variety of items in their gift shop including several interesting books on Pelee as well as the standard nautical souvenirs. On the wall there was a topographical map of the surrounding area, so I got a better idea of how close we were to the U.S. and the number of islands that make up what is known as The West Lake Erie Islands.


These islands, regardless of their country of ownership, form what is called an Archipelago. This is the term for a chain or cluster of islands, which in this case support a Carolinian forest eco system. While I was familiar with Carolinian forests, as my cottage is in one such area, until I visited Pelee I had no idea of the range of these environs.

In fact, “Carolinian” itself is a term used to describe a life or vegetative zone in Eastern North America characterized by a predominance of deciduous trees. Over the years since the origin of this designation came in to use in 1859 by J.G. Cooper of the United States, its usage has changed. Now the term is primarily used in Canada, and referred to as Eastern Deciduous or Eastern Woodlands, in the U.S.

Carolinian Forest

The northern edge of the area encompassed is below an approximate line drawn between Toronto on Lake Ontario to Grand Bend on Lake Huron, with the southern extension in to the Carolinas. In this area are pockets of the fertile mixed wood plains, as seen on Pelee Island. The Great lakes modify the surrounding area allowing animals, birds and plant life to survive, that are seldom found in other areas of Canada.

Typical Carolinian forest; trees are a mix of Hickory, Black Walnut,Sycamore, Chestnuts, Oaks and the rarer Red Mulberry, Dwarf Hackberry, Tulip tree and Kentucky Coffee trees. Not surprisingly, Poison Ivy is one of the native vines for this area, while wildflowers, Swamp Rose Mallow, Tall Coreopsis,Wild Bergamot,wild Lupine and Yellow Lotus can also be found blowing in the meadows and wetlands.


Yellow Lotus


Pink Mallow







Unique animals and reptiles are there as well. In fact the Island is home to the Gray Fox found only in one other location in Manitoba and a Blue Racer snake which is only found on Pelee. There are many more examples of wildlife unique to this area and island, many of which are now endangered species!

Unfortunately Carolinian forests are frequently near large populated areas of Ontario and then are at risk due to loss of wetlands, as cities grow. Even farmland expansion has a downside as it can destroy natural nesting and living areas. Certainly the balance of economy vs preservation of a natural eco system is quite delicate.

On Pelee Island, the farming has declined from 33 farms to less than 10 over the last twenty years as farmers’ retired and new machinery allowed larger tracts to be managed by individual farms. The population has declined as well. Around 1900 had almost 800 residents with 4 schools, 4 churches and 3 general stores. Certainly current transportation and recession issues have had an impact on the islands economy as there are only approximately 275 year round residents with one store, a post office, LCBO, bike rentals a few B&Bs and several restaurants.

As well Pelee Island Winery adds to the islands economy and provides another attraction for visitors. Fishing, boating, scenery and the annual Pheasant Hunt draw many tourists here and countless birders come each spring as migration patterns peak.

But  no Pelee Island Trip would be complete for me until I witnessed the peak …the  sandy one at the end of the island! As a gardener and lover of nature I certainly appreciated the lovely trees blowing in the wind and the birds heard high overhead but getting away was my main goal. In fact I was lookiing forward to leaving the city behind for some beach combing and a calmer atmosphere.




Part of the calm I found was in the natural landscape, feeling the sand through my toes and hearing countless birds call from the shore. With the sun high overhead, beach combing was amazing as I headed to the end of Fish Point Park…to wave at the United States and the thousands of seagulls resting on the sandy finger that ends this lovely island.



Pelee Island was a joy to visit and I look forward to enjoying the Carolinian forest, friendliness of the residents and the lovely blooms of their gardens, in the near future…and of course walk the sandy shores and breath the fresh Lake Erie air!


Motivational Inspiration

Motivational inspiration


Motivational inspiration varies from person to person, as actions or changes we make in our lives that come from some form of inspiration. Motivational  is the term applied to any  change or new project we might take on as inspiration itself moves us.

Inspiration…now that is a tough thing to define for each person! Of course, as I claimed this is what started my blog, I have been giving this subject a great deal of thought. When the cottage garden flowers and all their colours got me out of the doldrums I had been in, having a green lawn was the furthest thing from my mind. 


In fact, my brain was pretty bogged down with a zillion and one worries, not unlike most other people, especially mothers! So what was I hoping for here was to provide help and inspiration.

It seems so far the part that has helped me most was writing the steps to a greener lawn , and although rather dull, it was a form of motivational inspiration!  To some, having a lovely lawn can be inspiring  and certainly it helped me feel better to drive up to my house in the city and see a green lawn where potholes once were. 

Motivational inspiration

Motivational inspiration is seldom an issue for enthusiastic gardeners! For all you gardeners that love your green blades of grass, enjoy! If the colours, sounds and movement of a newly refurbished garden , inspire you to try your hand at water painting, wood carving, scroll sawing, wooden garden art , writing a song, or dancing a jig then the inspiration of nature has helped bring you joy!


Joy however is not a word I would use to describe such natural things such as slugs, grubs and other squishy garden pests! Of course they are great snacks for birds, toads and even birds and beetles. 



Then of course, there is the matter of the Poison Ivy that is found growing along the ground and climbing to new heights through many a country meadow. Norfolk County, where my country cottage is located, is, as one local official stated, the Poison Ivy capital of Canada.


These leaves of three, along with those of Poison Oak and Poison Sumac contain an oil called Urushiol that causes an allergic reaction in approximately 85 % of the population. The oil can stay for months to years on articles of clothing etc and is even active in the smoke if you try and burn the poison Ivy. After several encounters with it myself I can tell you it will make deep potholes in your skin, make you swell up and  get very, very itchy.

What remains a mystery to me then is that birds, sheep and goats can eat poison ivy with no reaction…I guess they have strong stomachs! Personally a nice garden salad suits me better, with oil and vinegar dressing please. In fact there is nothing quite as yummy as fresh from your garden greens, tomatoes and other fresh veggies.



Unfortunately unlike Poison Ivy, garden veggies do not grow well without proper tending and with my time split between city and country (not to mention work), there is no vegetable garden at all this year. Despite motivational inspiration, last year I tried tomatoes in the city and onions in the country but both struggled  and withered with neglect…sob…I killed the poor things!

On a positive note, thanks to some hard work by myself and designated weeders who were corralled in to helping, both locations have something stimulating to see that brightens my days. Of course there are always worries galore that can bog us down and having a beautiful garden can’t take away painful things, but for brief moments a lovely landscape, art form or bloom can make me smile and sometimes gives me a brainwave or insight on a situation that hadn’t been considered…motivational inspiration!


Columbine Delight

Consider then that gardens are part of a meditation progress that can help us breath and clear the mind. There are a few techniques used in meditation including The “Conscious Breath” meditation that helps you to become aware of your breathing, without controlling it. I cannot begin to cover the subject of meditation breathing, conscious breathing, breathing for yoga, counted breath nor all the other defined relaxation and healing impacts from good, deep breathing.

 The two sites below are a fraction of those available on line that gives the reader some sense of the need to “take a deep breath” and relax.






By using these techniques or even that of mindful watching…of the wind blowing through the trees, bobbing flower heads, lifting birds high in to the sky can teach us many things. We can be reminded that so much is beyond our control and yet there is a newness and energy to life that we can harness if we choose! Let this inspiration motivate you to take a chance and try something new and remember the old saying…Rome wasn’t built in a day!


Xeriscape Landscaping

Xeriscape Landscaping

Certainly after posting a blog or two about the sad shape of my lawn and garden, I began to wonder how that showed the inspiration I claimed my garden gave me. Of course the landscaping information revealed that I was indeed having fun, even if I was “downsizing” the gardens at home.

The front garden looked sad as the before picture below shows, neglect and soon to be blooming Goldenrod had turned the poor garden in to an orphan. As the weather on this particular day was at a cooler, more reasonable temperature, I decided I was up to the garden intervention!


Front Yard gone crazy!

Xeriscape Landscaping site in waiting!


With garden gloves firmly pulled on, a trowel and lots of muscle, I began to yank and dig my way through several yard waste bags full of weeds. Stopping only once, for a cool drink of water and to take a picture of my progress, I wasted no time in getting back to my beautification project.




After several hours, I stood back to see plants I knew and loved actually smiling through! Okay, at least I recognized the Gaillardia, the post flowering Peony, the Sea Holly, the tiny piece of Phlox and some Red Bee Balm. Now the tall grass rustled as the individual stalks had room to move after some brutal thinning out.


Front garden Extraordinaire!

Front garden Extraordinaire!


Of course some would argue that deconstructing a garden is not really landscaping but based on several definitions that is in fact what I did. If Landscaping as defined by the Encarta English Dictionary is “the enhancement of the appearance of land, especially around buildings, by altering its contours and planting trees, shrubs, and flowers”, then I indeed become a landscaper.

Included in the new landscaping design are Porportulacs Snapdragons and some Stachys Byzantina better known as Lambs Ears. To enhance their growing spirit and of course their vegetation, the dry, lifeless and dusty soil needed help! I added some Triple mix, turned it over and watered everything thoroughly. Then I mulched and watered again so the shredded bark wouldn’t wick away any of the valuable moisture from the struggling plants to avoid there being part of a Lunar Landscape that was out of this world!



Certainly the view through the walls of any dome of the future would be an Earthy one. But, by the time we explore the Moon in seriousness, I’d be too old for the position but it is fun to think of.Xeriscape Landscaping would indeed be a challenge but one I needed to tackle for the challenge itself and to fill the dry corner garden in front of my house.I do have experience at growing plants in dry, dusty, lifeless soil where potholes and rocks are common. In fact, that describes most of my gardens.

Despite the soil differences normally found between my house and cottage garden, this year thanks to very little rain and certainly neglect…they have the same lousy earth. Even as I drove past the farmers’ fields and homes, in this dry summer, I see dust blowing across some empty fields, and between rows of corn and other veggies.

Green plants were growing thanks to many pumps, wells, miles of pipe and huge agricultural watering system. Along the side of the roads I drove today, the scrub trees were beginning to dry and crunch as the lack of rain is showing. Despite the resemblance to the lunar landscape, with potholes, rocks, dry soil and no vegetation, fields that have been left to fallow for the season give us the reality check of how lifeless spaces can drag us down.

Even this fact is not lost on country homes both large and fancy to the small clapboard homes that have housed farming families for decades. I noticed that flowerbeds show life with coloured blossoms throughout their contours and even when no garden exists, a pot of marigolds or geraniums can be seen on the porch. Of course there are many landscaping features in place you’d least expect…wagon wheels. Tractor wheels and even old machine parts with vines growing on the. Then there are the gardens growing in bathtubs and even in wash tubs.


Washtub planter

Washtub planter


Certainly the plants in these containers, live well despite often being neglected in out of the way places, and not having their roots firmly set in Mother Earth. In other words, to make certain our vegetation survives we need to think “lunar” and go for drought tolerant plants. Actually this area of Horticulture is called Xeriscaping or Xeriscape landscaping and is gaining popularity.

Weeds are generally far more drought tolerant, thanks to their good root base, but as I am planning this design and not letting nature blow things in whilly nilly, some research is needed. Currently I know that Purple Coneflower and other members of the Echinacea family thrive and bloom well with little water. Other good low water plants are Bee Balm, Yucca, and all the Sedum family just to name a few.

Bee Balm

Bee Balm

Purple Coneflower
Purple Cone-flower






As I have mentioned in the past, both the library, bookstores and the internet are a great source of information on these and other  plants that thrive on little water. Listed below is one of the many sites I have checked out for lots of gardening information and more on drought tolerant plants.


Despite summers scorching heat and with many garden centres selling off the last of their stock, finding and planting these may be challenging. Still, if your summer will be centred close to the garden and a good end of season sale can be found, by all means give it a shot…if inspiration can come from even on sprout surviving and you are up for the challenge…take a chance at Xeriscape landscaping and turn in to something out of this world!

Future gardening site!

Spring’s bloom

 Springs’s Bloom

Perennial Daffodil


Inspiration can come to us from many things with results we may least expect out of the clear blue sky! Who knew this would happen for me recently when my garden’s rising shoots were the beginning of a new plant and a new idea that had never crossed my mind. While gardening guru I am not, certainly I have lots of experience in the field, in weeding lawns, gardens and wondering what that funny coloured bug was. As I type even now the question pops up… what words of wisdom could I share?

Wisdom, learning and sharing garden thoughts, joys and failures, certainly connects us and often makes us see the world from a brighter place. If nothing else it can make us look outside of ourselves, breathe a little deeper and relieve stress even for just a short while!

Spring’s bloom is a time to enjoy nature’s beginning without worry. After all, do plants stress about wearing the season’s latest styles, or if their blooms are big enough? No they just grow and provide pleasure for us and food for assorted bugs and often provide the inspiration needed for us to start our very own growth.

While seeing buds bloom and shoots grow might not be what inspires some to branch out, for some reason it was the muse I needed for a new start. Whether my blog takes off in any way to be as lovely as a flower is yet to be seen, but certainly it is my hope.



Trillium welcomes Spring


So far it may seem like yet another site, but I hope to peak your interest of gardens and nature with pictures, facts, hints and inspirations…all with a sense of fun! Certainly most of us can all use more fun in our stress filled lives and as we dream, plan and work in our lives and gardens. In fact, where would we be without all those parts of our lives…how could we bloom where we are planted, to quote an old saying.

Speaking of blooms, daffodils, hyacinths and tulips are up and ready to burst! Despite the unusual weather…from shorts in March and early April to parkas the next day, the poor defenceless plants and bulbs have survived! In fact, with the last of the snowflakes finally leaving us this week and the sun’s warming rays, there is a glorious crop of spring flowers along city streets and country roads and in awakening fields.

Spring’s bloom in the field of my country estate has tiny violets and other wild flowers coming to life. As I write this looking out over my garden, masses of deep purple and red tulips are just waiting for a bright sunny day or two to open. Okay, 1.8 acres does not an estate make, and the Ottawa Tulip Festival has nothing to worry about, but my tulips are lovely as you can judge for yourself.

Remember, there are flowers everywhere….just keep your eyes open…and enjoy!