Helleborus experimentalis

I recently read Gayla Trail’s post about her fear of growing hellebores. I was surprised to learn that many people seem to feel trepidation about growing these plants. They are pricey, certainly, but for me they have been so easy as to be almost ridiculous. I have given mine absolutely no coddling and while my soil isn’t the worst in the world, I think, it isn’t going to win any “Best Tilth” awards, either.

I am conducting a little experiment, then, to see just how tough a hellebore can be. My only expectation is that at least one of these clumps should thrive in spite of me.

I dug up a few clumps of seedlings with my beloved garden knife. Note the exemplary growing conditions.

Experiment methodology:

  1. Dig a hole the same size as the transplant (no larger).
  2. Plop it into the hole (do not amend soil).
  3. Mash with foot.
  4. Do not water.
  5. Do not feed.
  6. Do not tend.
  7. Return periodically to assess progress or demise.

playhouse site

Test Plot A: The kids’ playhouse.  Just above the concrete block on the left of the photo is a window from which the children pretend to sell ice cream. It gets plenty of foot traffic. This is also the landing site for the bucket on a pulley, which hoists things to the fort’s lookout level. The soil here has never been amended, unless you count the occasional covering with a wood chip mulch to cut down on the mud. This site is in deep shade and grass can’t grow here. Assuming similar conditions to neighboring undeveloped garden spaces, the pH here is 4.8.

water meter, west facing

Test Plot B: West-facing gravel scree atop the water meter. This site receives neither foot traffic nor love. The most human attention it gets is a scowl from me as I leave the driveway, thinking “I have got to do something about that space.” May occasionally receive attention from dogs being walked. There are lots of neighborhood dogs.

barren south facing site

Test Plot C: South-facing, against the concrete foundation. The soil here is completely untended, rock-solid clay. I expect it to receive some foot traffic as it is in the access path for any people and equipment who will be working on the addition to our house this summer.

living above ground

Test plot D: No-man’s land behind the shed. Test Subject D, slightly more mature than its counterparts, will live above ground, simply in the clod in which it was dug up. This is in a shady site behind my shed, where large pots and leftover bricks are stored.

These test plantings were established and photos taken on March 28, 2013. We’ll check in periodically and see how they fare.


This is getting slightly ridiculous

I finished the saloon door gate. It was a big hit with the 7-year-old, who immediately began bursting through one way, then the other. Why, she asked, did we ever take these out of the house when they’re sooo cool?

saloon doors finishedIncidentally, these gates are placed in a break in the new border of azaleas being made by the Great Azalea Migration. In my mind’s eye, these gates will one day offer an enticing  pathway through great billowing flowering shrubs. We’ll see.

In the afternoon, I sowed:

  • Echinacea purpurea
  • Digitalis purpurea
  • Cleome ‘Two Tone Pink’
  • Datura (white, variety unspecified)
  • Campanula trachelium
  • Asclepias incarnata (pink)
  • Asclepias tuberosa (orange)
  • Blackberry lily (Belamcanda chinensis)
  • Gaillardia ‘Arizona Sun’
  • Shasta daisy ‘Alaska’
  • Monarda (unspecified purple)
  • Bachelor button ‘Blue Boy’ (Centauria cyanus ‘Blue Boy’)
  • Peach-leaf campanula (Campanula persicifolia)
  • Golden Alexander (Zizia aurea)

So, adding to the butterfly-friendly theme, the Asclepias, Echinacea, Monarda, Datura, and Zizia aurea should reel them in. Maybe more of them will as well; I need to read up.

If I had any sod to bust, I would say I had better get to it; assuming all these things grow, my garden will absolutely explode with plants next summer. As it is, I had better start busting clay and place an order for about 12 yards of manure. It may take me from now to the last frost to prepare good beds for all these fellas.


I have a confession: I’m a terrible pack rat.

While I don’t qualify as a hoarder, I can seldom bear, it seems, to throw out anything that hasn’t nearly disintegrated. I love the idea of upcycling, creative reuse of old objects, and I am also very cheap, which has proven to be an unfortunate combination for my backyard shed. To add to the misery, I also purchased this property from another apparent pack rat, and so came into not only a 3-bedroom house with a half-acre lot overgrown with vinca, honeysuckle, creeping liriope, and ivy, but an attic and shed full of tiny packs of miscellaneous hardware, scrap lumber, odd rusted tools, and (naturally) plastic and wire kits for organizing such messes.

At least once a year, or when I find the courage to face the task, I do a purge of the shed. I did quite well last week and scrapped all sorts of odd bits–plumbing parts, old doodads of unknown purpose–but I also unearthed the saloon doors that once separated the kitchen from the dining room. I am upcycling these doors into a garden gate in the kids’ play area.

I spent three days searching the shed for the hardware parts that mount the doors to the wall. While what I’ve just stated may argue to the contrary, I’ve come to appreciate the monetary value of both my time and my sanity, and so I did a little Internet search to see if the local big-box store might have a saloon door hardware pack. I didn’t find one listed in the inventory (not completely surprised, as saloon doors seem to appear less frequently in homes these days, for some reason…) but had a wander through the store anyway to see if there was some hardware hack I could easily execute.

What I found was (joy!) an actual saloon door hardware pack for under $7. My mental health, which I don’t always price at market value, is definitely worth $7. So into the cart it went, along with 2 4x4x6′ pressure-treated posts.

I pledge not to embark upon another home or garden project until this project is complete.

I took advantage of the recent rains to dig some deep holes in my sticky red clay. I filled the bottoms with rubble left over from the demolition of our masonry chimney, and backfilled with a sack of paver base (a mixture of sand, decomposed granite, and gravel).

saloon post

The gatepost mid-setting.

After ensuring the posts were plumb and level, I topped off the backfill and packed it in. I removed the old hardware from the doors and hung the first door before I had to quit for the day.

The right-side door hung.

The right-side door hung.

I will paint the posts in a few weeks; they need time to weather, first. The forecast for the weekend looks not too bad for January, so I’m hopeful I’ll be able to complete the project quickly.