Colour the winter garden with hellebores and cyclamens
The spring bulbs have long since flowered and are slowly retreating into the ground to hibernate for the winter and the colourful summer annuals, after having their seeds saved, have been pulled and added to the compost heap. Deciduous trees now look bare after dropping all their leaves and the days are shorter and often overcast.
But without this cold winter weather some plants would never survive, let alone bloom. This slow drop in temperature from early autumn into the coldest months signals the time is right for the hellebore, also known as the winter rose and the cyclamen to come into their own. The many colours and shapes of these stunning flowers are welcomed by gardeners wanting to brighten their beds and borders, as much as their own spirits, at a time when there is not much else flowering.
Hellebores, or winter roses as they are known, are a member of the ranunculaceae family, which includes ranunculus and clematis, beautiful flowers available in many colours for the winter garden. The range of colours includes pink, green, plum, purple, white, yellow, and many are speckled inside. They also come in a range of single, double and anemone-centred flowering species so you should be able to find one to suit your exact taste.
Hellebores are low growing, with the flowers usually hanging down so their inner beauty is sometimes overlooked unless you actually look inside the centre of the flower. Raised beds can be a way of admiring their wonderful colours and markings more easily.
Plant Hellebores in autumn for best results and add some compost and a little lime to the soil beforehand to help with growth. Planting under deciduous trees works very well as the bare limbs allow sunlight and warmth to the plants during winter, and the leaves during the hotter months will offer shade and protection.
Acaulescents are a form of hellebore and is a low clumping variety with smaller flowers, while the Caulescents have flowers on taller stems. Helleborus Niger is a single white flower and one of the most common, but it is the hybrids which most of us know — the larger, more colourful flowers that have been bred to attract the eye and create a visual delight in the garden.
If you want to collect and sow seed from your Hellebores, allow the seed pods to form in the centre of the flower and sow the seed fresh around the end of spring; it should germinate the following winter. If you do not want the plants self-seeding, dead head them regularly and wear gloves when handling Hellebore plants and seeds as all parts of the plant are poisonous.
Cyclamens are members of the primrose family and grow from a bulb-like root ball called a corm, which needs to be buried close to the surface of the soil with its top exposed just above it. The leaves and flower stalks will begin to emerge from the corm when the temperature is cool enough. They dislike being watered from overhead as this may cause mould problems such as botrytis, or grey mould, on the leaves or corm. Instead, channel water around the corm and down to the roots if possible to avoid the risk or if it is in a pot, stand it in a tub of water and let the roots draw the water up from below before allowing the pot to drain.
Feed them with a slow-release fertiliser when the leaves first appear and as most cyclamens are fairly low-maintenance,you will be rewarded with a profusion of beautiful coloured flowers in reds, whites, purples and pinks. The leaves are also very decorative and can be mottled or variegated. They love the cold and grow well in pots, but if the days are warm, place them in a laundry tub or bath with the curtains drawn until the sun has gone down before returning them outdoors for the night. The majority of cyclamens sold at florists and nurseries are cyclamen persicum.
If kept as an indoor plant they will also benefit from being taken outside overnight. Ice cubes sat on top of the soil around the corm will provide the plants with a constant trickle of chilled water, ensuring the roots stay cool and moist. Do not over-water them. If you have the space, place the entire pot in the fridge overnight once or twice a week. Growing them in the shade of overhanging branches will help your cyclamens avoid drying out as quickly or the flowers from burning if there is the occasional overly hot day.
They look wonderful in a woodland situation or in rockeries and remember to remove the dead flowers by twisting them at the base and pulling them off the corm rather than cutting them away. When their growing season is over, around January or February, store potted plants in a shaded area where they will stay relatively dry.
You can try propagating cyclamens by collecting seed from the plant and sowing it at the start of the growing season around autumn. Soak it for 24 hours first before sowing in propagating mix, however the seeds need to be germinated in the dark and may take a couple of years to reach the flowering stage. There are also miniature cyclamens that are only around 15cm tall.
So if you want to make sure your garden looks as colourful during the winter months as it does during the spring and summer, why not choose a spot and grow some cyclamens and hellebores? Our thanks to Peter Leigh of Post Office Farm Nursery for his assistance with this story. For more information on hellebores or to purchase any of the new varieties photographed here, visit www.postofficefarmnursery.com.au or phone (03) 5427 3227.
Ten plants to add colour in the winter garden The winter garden needn’t be a drab, colourless affair.
Here are 10 plants that can put a dash of colour in your winter garden, from small plants to large shrubs.
- Wallflowers (perennial stock)
- Japanese anemones
- Daphne (colour is more subtle but fragrance is superb)
- Japanese Pieris
- Witch hazel