To say that I LOVE Hellebores would be an understatement. These flowers are stunners. To be honest, I think part of my reason for loving them so much is that I was told I couldn't grow them. I love those sorts of challenges :) Because I'm so crazy for them I have tried them in many different places in my yard. I was surprised that they seemed to prefer a lot more sun than I would have guessed from the research I'd done. In my yard their sweet spot is in the shade of rose bushes or other East facing beds that have sun in the morning and afternoon shade. These guys take either patience of money (and honestly a bit of both). If you can swing it, buy the biggest plants you can find. (If that's not a problem for you, you should hire me to consult for your flower garden!😉) Hellebores are slow growers and take a couple years of growing before they start producing an abundance of stems. They are drought tolerant but not very heat tolerant. Avoid overwatering and make sure they have shade in the summer. If you grow hellebores you may be tempted to cut the flowers for arrangements. There are lots of complicated processes I've seen for getting them to last when they are young and at their (imho) most beautiful. What I do instead is enjoy them in the garden that way and wait until they have dropped their stamens and other reproductive bits (like the flower above) and then they last for weeks. The dark colors will retain their color when they dry. Hellebores have a long history (like many in their family, the Ranunculaceae) as medicine/poison so don't eat them! They are the first to blooms of the new year and they are well worth adding to your garden.
Why does this question make the song "These are a few of my favorite things" from the Sound of Music start playing in my head? So, what ARE my favorite flowers? The truth is, my favorite is probably whatever took my breath away that day. It changes frequently, however, there are some that I look forward to growing each season because they rate well in the following: 1) they are beautiful 2) they are easy to grow (this may be relative) and 3) they are cut and come again, this is an important characteristic and one I will explain in more detail below. With the list below you could have almost a year of easy blooming flowers!
Narcissus is just a fancy word for what is actually a daffodil. I find it useful as it helps to distinguish these beauties from the flowers most people have seen before at the grocery store. These specialty daffodils have been bred for wild petal counts, soft pastel colors, and soft fragrance. Some of the reasons I love them? They are EASY to grow! If you have a viable bulb you WILL get a beautiful flower - even in areas with critters. Deer don't eat the stems and gophers won't eat the roots. There are two groups of narcissus that are worth understanding. Tazetta narcissus have multiple smallish flowers on a single stem. These must have evolved in warmer areas because they will naturalize in Southern California. What this means is that if you let the foliage brown before cutting it off, you will get future flowers every year. Sweet! There are some lovely flowers in this group. I like the Erlicheer variety. However, the flowers above are not tazetta group narcissus (for more information about the different types, check out this website). They are the ones that really capture my heart. Sadly, these will not come back to flower in subsequent years. They will grow leaves but won't flower again. I don't feel right composting perfectly viable bulbs so I usually offer up my spent bulbs to farming friends in cold climates. This past year I held on to some bulbs and refrigerated them with my tulips. I will report back on how they do this spring.
This time of year is called "dearth" by beekeepers because of the lack of blooms to feed the bees. Fortunately, in Southern California, this isn't such an issue. In my garden there are chrysanthemums (on 3" stems - the leftovers of the fall cut flowers), camellias, stock, roses, snapdragons, and a variety of other flowers. Not as many as there will be in February when days are longer but enough to keep the bees happy. It's also a time where future flowers are forming in the bodies of bearded irises, rice flower, and many spring blooming geophytic plants (those that survive as starchy underground storage stems to bloom at the very start of spring). If pollination and pollinators are important to you, find some plants that bloom during these short days. Dearth means short days but it doesn't have to mean an absence of flowers!
Flower timing in Southern California is weird. Right now it's cold and "winter" for Southern California and I'm started seedlings like crazy while the rest of the country is hunkered down browsing seed catalogs. We have two distinct seasons here that don't exist in other places. Many of their early spring plants are our winter bloomers (makes me think of flannel underpants). IF you read many websites, books, or social media you see mention of starting things 6 weeks or 4 weeks or 2 weeks before the last frost date. What is this magical frost gate through which so many exciting things happen? Just kidding! I grew up in Minnesota so I'm just kidding about not knowing about frost but So Cal natives might not have such a relationship with freezing temperatures. We don't have a real frost in Pasadena. I might get a little frost lick in one specific part of my yard that will kill nasturtium sprouts on a really cold night but for the most part nothing freezes. That opens up a whole world of growing possibilities! It also means we can play a long game with cool loving flowers like ranunculus. Sadly, not going to have much luck with peonies as they do best with real chill. I found it quite challenging to translate all this talk of frost to my growing climate here in Pasadena. Because I like that sort of challenge I went deep into research and scouring social media groups of flower farmers and came up with a strategy that so far has worked well. I don't actually follow my own strategy because life gets in the way but every year I' a little less behind on my schedule. Progress! It is WEIRD to be starting cool loving plants in September when it's 100 degrees out. Sometimes it the weather makes it impossible. Often, the plants are fine if you shade them a bit and put them in the coolest spot you have. Before you know it it's cold again and then you are taking advantage of the short lived winter to give your cool flowers the best start. During December and January we dip below 10 hours of daily sunlight and that will also stall things a bit but don't despair! In February and March everything is going to POP and you will have more blooms than you know what to do with! Then we bump into the other "season" which is HEAT. By March and April while you are overwhelmed with cool flowers it's time to think about your heat lovers. In order to help everyone else with this quirky scheduling I made a planner with month by month "to-do" lists. If that's something you might find useful, it's available on my website.
I finally figured out a good use of the flowers I've been drying! I made them in to holiday ornaments and I'm delighted with how they turned out. What I love about these flowers is that what didn't sell as a fresh stem, gets a second chance at being admired. Another nice aspect is that stem length doesn't matter. Some cuts, like bunny tails grass, are notorious for having short stems that make them less desirable for florists but fine for adding decorative texture to an ornament. Gomphrena is amazing at how it keeps its color once dried. I've grown the white (dried to more of a cream color) and a bunch of the colors. Orange and purple are not usually something I use as fresh stems because the colors are so bold but in dried form they add a perfect POP of color! Hydrangea blooms are extremely delicate but worked really well for the ornaments. I used a small branch in some or single flowers in others. The most perfect flower was strawflower. It looks dried even when fresh with its' papery petals. I've grown a variety of colors in the past and I'm really glad I had so many choices for making ornaments. The purple red looks almost black. These were really fun to make and I love that I got to use blooms that I grew. I don't know where else you would find organic dried flowers unless you grew them yourself! I've got them for sale on my website if you'd like some.
Mums are amazing flowers and I am a huge fan! In Southern California where it doesn't freeze mums are also fairly easy to grow. Chrysanthemums are in the daisy family (the Asteraceae) and aren't actually flowers but rather an inflorescence (hundreds of small flowers that give the appearance of a single flower). You don't have to care about that, just sort of interesting. The fancy mums that I prefer are all grown by cuttings. Though it is possible to save mum seeds and breed your own, that's not something I have any experience with. Mums used to be prized flowers in backyards across the country but fell out of favor (I blame grocery store mums for giving them a bad name and the cultural shift away from backyard growing that happened all over). I'm so grateful to those committed mum growers (thank you Chrysanthemum society members and Kings mums!) kept these beauties around. In fact, a GREAT resource about all things mum is your local Chysanthemum society. Find one near you and join! They abound!
If you don't live where U.S. mum suppliers ship, your best bet is to get cuttings from another grower. Mum cuttings are very easy to propagate. Make sure to obey all the long list of laws about moving plant material (of course!).
I don't need to do anything special for my chrysanthemums to keep them alive in the winter but for those in cold climates, you need to protect your mums from freezing. Pot them up and bring them inside. They will need a light source so plan accordingly. I remember living in Minnesota you could tell the gardeners because of the bright light shining from their windows keeping their indoor plants alive in the winters. Another reason I'm glad to live in Southern California (except for peonies. I'm sad for the absence of those). Anyway, grow some mums! They don't have a problem with our dry weather. For those in wetter climates you might need to do some fungus prevention. Order in the winter, plant in the spring, cut down to 4-5 leaf nodes by Fourth of July and then enjoy stunning flowers all fall. Easy!
These days flowers have a hold of me and my schedule. With the cool weather it's time (and past time!) to think about the flowers that thrive for us mild season growers. Ranunculus are at the top of my list for a cool season focal flower. They are also (relatively!) easy to grow. Once you get a ranunculus corm started you are pretty much guaranteed to have an entire month of beautiful blooms starting in about 90 days. The other cool seasons plants I'm growing from seed (snapdragons, stock, corn cockle, statice, carnations, etc.) are nowhere near as dependable! All it takes is a couple hungry slugs and an overnight to mow down a row of tiny seedlings. Ranunculus don't have that issue! They are tough! Being in the ranunculaceae family means they share heritage with some fascinating plant poisons so perhaps that's way?
Regardless, grow some today! If you want fancy corms that make bigger flowers send me an email, I am a big of a plant and propagule (I love it every time I can use that word) hoarder. I'm hosting a pop-up shop on Saturday to help share my bounty.