Here’s Why I Love Hellebores

Cars buried in the snow

For all of February, this is what we battled in Connecticut. Now you see why I refer to it as the “frozen north. ” That funny red stick you see in the snow by the tree? That’s a 6 foot snow broom–I use it to clear the cars. You can see where I started on the far right.

But this is a gardening blog with a title about hellebores. I just wanted to give you some perspective for the next photo. Because, as you can imagine, it has taken quite some time for all this snow to melt, particularly when more kept falling.

When all the snow did melt, however, this is what’s underneath.

Lenten rose

I was shocked to see such fully developed buds coming out from under the snow. But of course, the temperature under there would have been stable and relatively warm–near freezing.

Many people find hellebores ordinary or common. Since these–along with the snowdrops–are the first things blooming for me, I am always delighted to see them!

Right (House) Plant, Right Place


Depending on what you might have read, this is either an easy care house plant or a difficult house plant. But if you have been reading my blog for awhile, you know that I can manage to kill some of the easier care house plants and I have had great success with some plants that are supposedly difficult.

So I think that we are doing everyone a disservice by describing house plants as “easy” or “difficult.” We don’t describe garden plants in this manner. Can you imagine if we suddenly started describing maple trees as “easy” and “oak” trees as “difficult? How absurd would that be?

How about if azaleas were easy (which they’re not) but roses were difficult (which they are also not)? Again, how silly would that sound?

So why do we persistently lump whole genuses of house plants as easy (I am thinking of you, snake plants! Nothing is easy if you stick it in a dark corner and water it too much!)

“Berries” on my croton

This actually is the level of benign neglect your house plants need. Obviously this plant was so happy that it flowered. I somehow missed the flowering completely but I did manage to notice the little berries that have formed. So clearly this plant is in the right place even in a snowy Connecticut winter.

You want to pay enough attention so that insects don’t get a foothold. You want to make sure that you are watering properly for a plant’s needs. Beyond that, try not to worry about artificial ideas, light meters or other extraneous things. The plant will let you know if it’s happy. This is proof.

Indoor Container Design

The classic “dish garden”

If one has had a loss, you can be fairly assured of at least two things: the kindness and sympathy of family and friends and their generosity. They will be generous with both food and, at least in my case, with plants. I am grateful for everything.

What strikes me, every time I look at this little dish garden, is that it’s one of the better ones that I have seen. The plants are designed to grow in the same sort of light–this is quite often not the case when these little collections are put together.

I have seen them–particularly at the holidays–mixing things like little evergreens, ivies, cyclamen and even kalanchoe all together. It was very pretty, but clearly these plants have different watering and light requirements.

What was good about the evergreen/ivy/cyclamen type arrangement is that it does follow the ” thriller, filler, spiller” combination that we follow when putting together outdoor containers. My dish garden above does the same thing.

The palm and dieffenbachia are the “thrillers,” the peace lily is the “filler,” and the philodendron is the “spiller.”

Deconstructed dish garden

You may remember these plants from 18 months or so ago. A neighbor gave me her dish garden after it had really outgrown its “dish,” so to speak. So I individually re-potted all the plants. But her garden had all the good elements of a container planting. It’s “thrillers” are the 2 dracena and palm; its ” fillers” are the maranta (prayer plant), and the peace lily, and the “spiller” is also the philodendron.

So if you are planning to construct an indoor container or dish garden, remember these two things. If you are planting the plants in the same container, make sure that they all want the same conditions (it sounds silly to say, but I see the pros mess this up all the time!) And keep those outdoor container gardening principles in mind. You can’t go wrong with those.

House Plant Care As We Approach Spring

“Approaching Spring ” certainly seems optimistic right now. As I write this, I am facing who knows what? At least 3-4 more winter storms of some sort in the next 10 days. At this point it appears that the storms will be a combination of snow, sleet, freezing rain, maybe rain….With my ski slope of a driveway, I can navigate snow fairly well. I am marooned by ice, however. So I may have lots of time to do plant care.

But the plants don’t know anything about that. As soon as March comes, they literally seem to sense a change in the sunlight. They begin to grow more quickly, which means that they need more water.

It also means it’s fine to re-pot them if they need it. And if you have been holding off on fertilizer for the winter, you can resume now that the growth is resuming.

One thing to be aware of: the plants aren’t the only things waking up. Insects are also waking up as well. I find that aphids are one of the first to show up on the plants if they have somehow over-wintered and escaped detection so far. So check your plants carefully every couple of days–you will be watering more anyway so that’s a great time to check.

Knowing what is likely to happen allows you to anticipate it and to be prepared. Both you and your plants will be grateful.

Something Different to Grow in the Kitchen

The nearly ready to eat mushrooms

On Monday I mentioned, in passing, my adventures with trying to grow mushrooms. From this photo, it looks fairly successful, right? Read on.

The mushroom saga, for lack of a better title, began when the Spoiler saw a log that was supposed to grow mushrooms in a gift insert in our local paper. Since I was a little light on gifts for him, I thought that the log might be fun, even though I would be doing all the actual “growing. He would enjoy the eating part.

Shitake mushroom log

So I ordered it. It was a fairly complex thing. It had to be soaked 24 hours in non-chlorinated water before anything would happen. Do you have any idea how much water it takes to cover this log? Half a utility sink, exactly.

So I did that and then set it on a plate (like the other box is sitting) and waited. Nothing. They say if nothing happens in a week, repeat the process and cover the log because perhaps it needs moisture.

Back to the half utility sink of non-chlorinated water. Fortunately I had just bought some plants so I had a large covering available.

A week later, I was growing some nice white mold, but mushrooms–no. So the log is in my potting shed. I will try to get it to produce outside this summer.

Meanwhile , the Spoiler now is looking for mushrooms. So online I go, to this organic kit “guaranteed to grow.” I soak it according to instructions (no nonsense about non-chlorinated water, but I used some anyway), and as soon as I scored the inside of the box, I could smell a nice earthy smell. I knew that this would work.

Here’s the progress:

Perhaps a week after soaking

3 days later

2 weeks after soaking

So this is an unqualified success! The Spoiler gets his mushrooms!