purple hellebore flowers

My Tough Plants #4: Hellebores

Unlike the other plants in this series, this one doesn’t have a reputation for weediness. And yet, in my garden it seeds around freely, to the point I’ve pulled out seedlings that are too numerous or in the wrong places. So technically, hellebores can be weeds. It’s all a matter of being in the right place, after all.

January 2013

Corsican hellebore

I have two species of hellebores here: the tall, jagged-edged-leaved Corsican hellebore (Helleborus argutifolius), with lime green flowers in winter and early spring; and the oriental hellebore (Helleborus orientalis), with flowers in shades from white to dark purple and big, round-edged leaves.

Both put up with shade and tree roots, and are of no interest to deer. The plants are evergreen. They don’t vanish in autumn; in fact, that’s when they perk up and start to think about blooming. Buds appear by Christmas and flowers are present until mid-spring. At that point, seeds are ripening, there’s lots of other stuff coming on, and it’s time for the hellebore bloom stalks to be cut down and removed. The leathery, dark green leaves look fine through the summer. A decent watering every week or two is helpful in our dry summers. If too dry, oriental hellebores flop and look pathetic, splayed out on the ground like they’ve given up.

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Oriental hellebore

The plants are long-lived and reliable. Maintaining them is simple. Corsican hellebores bear their flowers and leaves on the same stems. By the time the flowers look tired and seedy (May in my garden), fresh stems have appeared. I cut down the old stems at ground level and that’s that. The plants do have a tendency to splay as the stems lengthen. In spots where I don’t want them to flop onto other plants, I pound in 3 or 4 stout stakes around a plant and surround it with twine. I untie this before the cutting down operation and replace it afterward, to support the developing new stems.

Oriental hellebores produce separate leaf and flowering stems. I cut down the old leaves in spring, just about the time buds appear. New leaf stems grow along with the flower ones, so the plant rapidly plumps up again. I cut down the old flower stems by June to prevent seeding. When cutting down the old flower stems, make sure you don’t cut leaf stems by mistake (says the Voice of Experience).

Hellebores do have one annoying pest — aphids. They love the new growth and can multiply alarmingly on fresh leaves and even on flowers. I wash them off with water, either from a spray bottle or with the hose. Over the years, I’ve seen one or two plants afflicted by what I suspect is some sort of fungal disease; they produce fewer flowers and stunted leaves. The best “cure” might be to remove the sick plant and replace it with a fresh one, keeping in mind that if the problem really does originate with a soil-dwelling fungus, the new plant may be affected too.

Oriental Hellebore "Ivory Prince"

Hellebore “Ivory Prince”

Almost all of my hellebores are the basic species. I acquired my oriental hellebores by  scooping up a clump of seedlings at the two-leaf stage with a teaspoon from a public planting. (I admit the deed!) That’s why they’re all in shades of pinky-purple, although the colours vary a bit within the group. I’ve also bought a couple plants, one white with pink speckles and a creamy yellow one (whose flowers almost always turn rusty brown at the edges, so it’s a disappointment). I also bought a plant of the variety called “Ivory Prince.” It lives in a big blue pot and is quite a feature in February.

Plant breeders have been busy with the hellebore family, so a huge variety of colours and flower types is available. I’m intrigued by the ones with slate-coloured or almost black flowers, but the frilly double forms in shades of pink look like too much of a good thing to me.

Hellebores, especially the Corsican type, are good “anchor” plants in a perennial bed. They have enough presence to impart elegance to spots that include some of the weedier tough plants. Hostas are good company for hellebores. Their leaves are similar in size but different in texture, and they like the same conditions. (In my rooty patch, however, hostas do best in pots parked near the hellebores, rather than planted in the ground). Ferns look good near hellebores too, specifically the tough Dryopteris types. In small gardens, Corsican hellebores may be used like small shrubs, underplanted with bulbs and a groundcover such as plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides), which has electric-blue flowers in late summer. I prefer it to periwinkle, which is evergreen and overly vigorous.

Something to consider — Corsican hellebore plants can exude a distinctly skunky aroma, especially in warm weather. If you grow them, be prepared for questions about pot smoking. On the other hand, if you wish to indulge discreetly (pot is legal in Canada come October 17th), you can say, “Oh, you must have caught a whiff of the hellebores.”

Fall 2010

Corsican Hellebore, variegated hosta (in pot), and hardy cyclamen, Fall 2010

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An Inspiring Post from a Compulsive Gardener

Here is a wonderful post that speaks eloquently of taking the long view as a gardener. It expresses interesting thoughts on moles and oak trees, and includes some beautiful images as well.

We are all custodians of our little patches of earth.

At the end of the day, whether we own them, rent them, or just work on them, we will not be here forever. I hear people talk about gardening legacies, and it strikes me how short a legacy can be: vast structures disappearing in a matter of decades, to be rediscovered like treasure troves just a scant generation or two later, or the sprawling cities of the ancients, just a few feet beneath tangled jungle.

Read more at Notes From a Compulsive Gardener

hot air balloons over Luxor Egypt

She Comes Forth!

Cover image for She Who Comes Forth created with Canva

The ebook version of my soon-to-be released novel She Who Comes Forth, is available at a special pre-order price of $2.99 from now until the release date, November 7th, 2018.

AMAZON:  US  UK  CA  AU

B&N  KOBO  APPLE

SMASHWORDS

This is the work in progress I’ve been blogging about for the past year or two. Finally, it exists as something more than a pile of paper and a bunch of Word docs.

The novel is a standalone sequel to the Herbert West Series. Readers who enjoy a combination of realistic adventure and supernatural elements in an exotic setting — Luxor, Egypt and the Theban Necropolis — may wish to have a look.

October 1962. The developing nuclear missile crisis in Cuba is of no concern to Francesca “France” Leighton. Recently turned 21, France travels from her home in Providence to a job at an archaeological dig in Luxor, Egypt. She takes with her two legacies—an emerald ring from the grandfather she never knew, and an antique cello from his friend, a man she loved like a grandfather.

The dig disappoints. France is relegated to sorting chunks of stone, the dig’s director makes unwanted advances; rivalries and mistrust are everywhere. And it’s too darn hot! Tasked with playing her cello at a gathering of archaeologists, France meets the enigmatic and fascinating nuclear physicist Adam Dexter. She’s smitten, especially when he promises to show her the secrets of Egypt, including a hitherto undiscovered tomb.

After a risky balloon cruise ends in a crash landing, France is forced to leave the dig. Despite warnings against solo explorations on the west bank, she finds herself with Adam Dexter in an eerie house near the Theban Necropolis. Adam’s promises are alluring, but he is both more and less than he seems and his motivations are disturbing. Fleeing his house, France makes a horrifying discovery.

Through an image of Osiris, France discovers the true reason for her presence in the Theban Necropolis. As the world teeters on the brink of nuclear war, she must call upon resources both within and beyond herself to meet the perils that await her in the world of the dead beneath the Western Peak.

 

Featured image courtesy of Pixabay.

The Boulevard Project in August, featuring chicory

Boulevard Project Update: Success!

Three years ago, I decided to do something different with a scruffy patch of weedy grass on the municipal boulevard next to my driveway. The actual grass was losing the battle with weeds I didn’t like — dandelion (Taraxacum) and hairy cat’s ear (Hypochaeris radicata ). It occurred to me to introduce a better class of weed and make the spot look better than bad. So began the Boulevard Project.

Chicory and Queen Anne's Lace on boulevardMy plant choices were inspired by the plantscape along my cycling route to work, a bike path parallel to one of the main highways into Victoria — chicory, Queen Anne’s lace, red clover, beach pea, and St. John’s wort. These plants in bloom made the roadside quite ornamental in July and August, with no watering at all. So far, I’ve established only two of them on my boulevard — chicory and Queen Anne’s lace. Beach pea (Lathyrus japonicus) now grows in a couple of other spots in my garden (not sure how that happened). I’ve harvested seeds from those plants, and will make a better effort with it on the boulevard next spring. I didn’t manage to collect viable seed of either the clover or St. John’s wort. However, white clover has established itself quite nicely. I have to admit the flowers of hairy cat’s ear on a neighbouring part of the boulevard provide the same shade of yellow as St. John’s wort. (I’m pleased to say my dandelion tool and I have succeeded in keeping hairy cat’s ear out of my patch. Impressive when you consider the mass of airborne seeds those nearby plants produce.).

Chicory flowerChicory (Cichorium intybus) is definitely the star of the show. It’s amazing to find such beautiful blue flowers on a plant that’s an utter weed. I’ve noticed some chicory plants have dark red stems, while others are green. They seem to vary in height too, and harmonize nicely with Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota). My original intention was to cut the chicories down to six inches or lower, and force them to flower near the ground. So far I haven’t had the heart to apply this brutal treatment, but now that the plants are established, I think I’ll do that next year, at least to those growing close to the public sidewalk.

Chicory flower and green bee

Chicory flower visited by a small green bee.  Apparently these are called “sweat bees.” not a very flattering name. Why not “emerald bees?”

Establishing the chicory was a little tricky, because the nonflowering stage of this plant, called a “rosette” in botany — looks a lot like common dandelion and hairy cat’s ear. I had to pay close attention when extracting dandelion and hairy cat’s ear not to extract the young chicory plants by mistake.

Both plants will need to be cut down before they seed wildly and form thickets. I want to retain the idea of grass supplemented with flowering weeds, not a solid weed patch. Let’s not forget that this adjoins a suburban sidewalk, not a rural lane. Every now and then I go out and do some snipping to show that yes, this is a cultivated spot, not a neglected one. I’ve even had one or two compliments from passers-by.

Chicory and fennel on boulevard

A plant of bronze fennel has established itself at the edge of the driveway.  I’ve been tossing California poppy seed pods onto the boulevard, and one tiny plant actually bloomed this summer. I’ve seen a creeping form of broom (Genista species) growing in all sorts of exposed spots, such as highway medians. Perhaps I’ll manage to work that in as well. And I must not forget the aster mentioned in the original post.

The project continues!

 

 

 

Our Golden Age?

The early decades of the twenty-first century saw a great flowering of the literary arts, due in large part to the advent of self-publishing on the Internet. The writers called themselves Indie Authors. Many of them were members of the so-called Baby Boom generation, born between the end of the Second World War and the nineteen-sixties. With a high degree of literacy and egos inflated by the conviction that they were the first humans to experience anything worthwhile, many of them used their retirement years to write. Literary agents and publishers were overwhelmed by a flood of submissions from these eager wannabees. Mail rooms overflowed with manuscript boxes, fat brown envelopes and SASEs. Rejections issued forth, provoking incredulous disappointment. Technology came to the rescue, providing online publishing platforms that allowed the indies to elbow the weary gatekeepers aside and publish. Millions of ebooks and POD print books issued forth. Savvy entrepreneurs stepped up to provide services to the indies. Blogs multiplied and online literary salons proliferated.

Every now and then, I wonder what future scholars of literature might say about us indie author/publishers. The mainstream of traditional publishing gets lots of attention, but over the past decade, vast numbers of writers have been quietly publishing, blogging, debating, opining, reviewing, interviewing, and ultimately creating a Thing.

Will anyone, in the future, study, write about, and analyze our Thing? What will they call us? The Early 21st Century Indies? The Tsunami of Crap? Boomers Unbound?

Really, though, think about it: we create, we connect, we write and publish. We’re serious and sincere. Aside from the fact that most of this activity is carried on via the internet, there isn’t much difference between the current phenom and the literary movements of history. Salons, pamphlets, feuilletons, little magazines, and literary societies all have their online equivalents. This blog on which I’m holding forth right now continues the tradition of writers and thinkers using whatever means are at hand to share their thoughts.

Who knows what posterity will make of us? We may represent only the very beginning of a larger phenomenon. Or we may be a brief spark that vanishes into the current of history. Will our works be curated and preserved, or will their survival depend on pure accident amid some global catastrophe? To us, right now, it really doesn’t matter. The true value of the indie author movement to us indie authors is the connections we’ve made with one another by creating and sharing our works and ideas.

mind movie image

Let’s keep on creating our Thing, whatever it is!

hammer and anvil

 

Book & Brains image created with Canva

Hammer and anvil image courtesy of Pixabay

The Indie Author Manifesto by Mark Coker at Smashwords

 

ASF #shortstory 3rd Place Winner Interview!

Here I am opining on various things, thanks to the generosity of Rachael Ritchey.

Rachael Ritchey

Guess what! We are interviewing one of the ASF Short Story Contest winners! Today we have the privilege of getting to know …

asf 3rd place badge

Audrey Driscoll!

I’m so pleased for this opportunity too! Make sure to connect with Audrey at her website and even on Goodreads.

To keep you entertained and make sure our interview is fresh, we made sure to steer the conversation to the unusual and helpful. Hope you enjoy!


R: Oh Audrey! You’ve waited so patiently for this day, and I’m beyond grateful! Thanks for taking the time to come for this interview. We’re really looking forward to getting to know you better.

FYI y’all, Audrey’s story, “Blue Rose” won 3rd place in the contest! 

Let’s dive right in with an awkward-but-fun question! Which word or phrase do you most overuse? If you could mix it up a little, what would you say in its place?

AD: I’m…

View original post 2,201 more words

Cut-down bloom stalks of lambs' ears, mullein, delphinium, achillea, blue fescue on Pond Bench. Dead flowers.

End-of-Summer Wreath

This is what I did with some of the dead plant parts featured in a recent post, adding a few fresh items and attaching everything to a base of old Clematis armandii vines I made years ago and have used many times.

Wreath made from dead flower stalks

 

Daylily "Kwanso" showing lots of wilted leaves

End of season foliage of daylily “Kwanso”

I’ve discovered that wilted daylily leaves (from the variety called “Kwanso”) are perfect as ties, sort of like raffia. Not as robust, but surprisingly tough in the short term. I’ll have to experiment, braiding them together to make “rope.” It will be interesting to see how well it holds up when completely dried out.

 

Wilted daylily leaves useful as ties

Wilted daylily leaves can be used as ties for wreath-making and other rough-and-ready garden crafts.

 

Cerinthe Pride of Gibraltar

The Magical Colours of Cerinthe

A few years ago, while riding my bicycle, I saw a plant with an exciting combination of blue, green, and purple. Those are my three favourite colours. Blue and purple especially — the colours of magic!

Some investigation revealed the name, or rather names, of this plant. In scientific Latin, it’s Cerinthe major, variety atropurpurea. Common names include honeywort and “blue shrimp,” which certainly describes it when in bloom. But I prefer “Pride of Gibraltar,” which has a certain grandeur and mystery, quite in keeping with this plant’s magical qualities.

Cerinthe Pride of GibraltarWhy magical, you ask? Because of the colour changes it undergoes. I grew a number of plants from seed this summer, in pots. That allowed me to keep a close eye on them and observe their development. Last summer, I grew them in the chaotic mess of the “Ex-Veg Patch,” where they soon disappeared among the jumble of herbs and arugula. I managed to harvest seven seeds and resolved to make good use of them.

When young, the simple, entire leaves of cerinthe are a pale green with faint white blotches. I worried about those blotches, but I think they’re normal. Once the plants branch out and prepare to bloom, the foliage colour deepens to a unique blue-tinged green. Flower buds form, and the ends of the stalks droop as the flowers open.

The flowers themselves aren’t all that spectacular. They’re narrow purple tubes less than an inch long, peeking out from the small terminal leaves. The magical thing is the colour of those leaves. They’re dark blue, sometimes with purple and bronze flushes. The combination of blue-green, pure blue, purple-blue, and purple is a delight to the eye. And chances are a bumblebee will show up. As it burrows into a flower, the bumblebee’s buzz grows more intense, probably because of the tubular shape.

Cerinthe Pride of Gibraltar close-up, blue leaves

Cerinthe Pride of Gibraltar close-upPride of Gibraltar cerinthe is an easy-to-grow annual. The seeds are about the size of peas, so are easy to handle. I can imagine all kinds of clever colour combinations in beds, borders and containers. Definitely allow seeds to form and ripen so you can experience the magic again next year.

More information on the genus Cerinthe here; on “Pride of Gibraltar” and obtaining seeds here.

We’re experiencing that weird, smoke-induced orange light here again. Some say it’s going to be the “new normal” for our summers. Air quality the past few days has been too poor for garden activities more strenuous than admiring the flowers of summer’s end, such as cerinthe “Pride of Gibraltar.”

Weird light at sunset. Orange light due to wildfire smoke.

 

Last Chance Summer Sale

August 15th through 22nd: Books 2, 3, and 4 of the Herbert West Series are on sale for .99 each.

The regular price is 2.99 or 3.99, so this is a bargoon.*

AMAZON USA

AMAZON UK

From ancient Arkham to the agony of the Great War, from Acadie to the islands of the West Coast, a brilliant but amoral physician is subjected to travails and entanglements, to become a source of healing — and of peril.

 

* “Noun, Canadian informal.  A product or service bought or offered for sale much more cheaply than is usual or expected; a bargain.” Oxford Dictionaries

 

Book Review: The Writer’s Pen by K. Morris

Kevin Morris’s latest collection of poems is now available on pre-order at Amazon UK.

Here is my review of an advance copy…

This latest collection by Kevin Morris consists of 44 pithy reflections on life, death, and passing time. Some of the subjects and themes are the same as in Morris’s earlier collection, My Old Clock I Wind – nature, the seasons, clocks, sex, and mortality. A group of longer poems explores what might be called current affairs.

The tone of these works is darker and more serious than the earlier collection. I recognized no humorous poems, although a wry humor is present in some of them, such as “Libidinous,” in which the poet wonders about the activities of nymphs in a budding wood. “Summer” contains the delightful lines “Now ’tis the fashion / For short frocks / And tiny socks.”

I especially appreciated a sequence of several poems in which the poet strolls through a churchyard under light and shade, contemplating mortality in an almost cheerful way. In “To and Fro,” he says “Why should I care? / For I will not be there / To know.”

Several poems explore the poet’s ambivalence about politics and political correctness. “Legacy (a poem on the late Enoch Powell)” is one such. Morris expresses mixed feelings about Powell, while acknowledging that “An intelligent man / Frequently can / Do more harm / Than a stupid one.” “When a Monster Dies” and “The Monster’s Son” are particularly intriguing, pointing out in a few brief lines that every person is multi-dimensional and complex.

Two poems – “Rhodes” and “I Shower” – contain the phrase “feet of clay.” In the first, it’s used as a caution against facile judgmentalism, and in the second as a reminder that “the beast in man” is ever-present and not easily expunged.

The Writer’s Pen and Other Poems is one poet’s way of dealing with life’s complications and contradictions. The poems display a resigned acceptance that doesn’t quite cross the line into pessimism. I’m guessing Morris appreciates conversations with friends, in pubs or over dinner and drinks. Reading this collection of short, accessible verses is like sitting down with a thoughtful friend to talk about life, death, and the ways of the world. The poems are brief, but Morris’s skilful use of words makes them worth reading more than once, and contemplating their meanings in moments of quiet.