Of course, the Christmas Rose represents renewed hope, the triumph of grace and mercy over sin and death, and the purity of Jesus and Mary themselves. Think of the German hymn, Es Ist ein Ros Entsprungen, or its English rendition, Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming, which is usually sung between Christmas Eve and the Epiphany.
In Victorian and modern decorations, the Christmas Rose is often depicted as an almost perfect Tea blossom, sometimes pristine white, sometimes rosy pink, but the plant of lore was most likely Helleborus niger – an evergreen perennial, native to Central Europe and part of the Buttercup family. Cultivated since ancient times and cherished in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, the flowers of Helleborus niger do look like native European species of the Rose.
|Two Dog Roses on a Stem and a Lackey Moth Caterpillar|
French watercolor, c. 1575, by Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues
from the permanent collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum.
And let’s face it. Anything that flowers in the middle of winter is a miracle!
We are lucky to have Pine Knot Farms, one of the premiere growers and breeders of Hellebores, right here in Virginia, and they offer several cultivars of the Christmas Rose and great guidance for growing all species of Helleborus.
|The star-like Helleborus niger 'Double Fantasy',|
|H. x ballardiae 'Cinnamon Snow',|
|H. x hybridus 'Peppermint Ice' and|
|H. x hybridus 'Shirley's Snow Stars' are all grown at Pine Knot Farms.|
I love cranberries and can eat them any time in any place. But that bright, tart flavor, often combined with lots of sugar, nuts and a touch of orange or lemon, is most associated with Thanksgiving and Christmas, when the cranberry harvest is coming to an end.
The Cranberry is a low, creeping shrub in the Ericaceae or Heath family and grows naturally in cool, acidic marshes throughout the Northern Hemisphere. It’s my understanding that all true Cranberries, including Vaccinium oxycoccos (Small Cranberry), native to the northern reaches of the continent and as far south as Idaho and Virginia, and Vaccinium erythrocarpum (Southern Mountain Cranberry), at home in the Southern Appalachians and looking much more like a Blueberry at about 5’ tall, with deciduous leaves and deep carmine berries, are indigenous to North America… although, some of these same species flourish in northern Europe and Asia.
The scientific nomenclature for Cranberry can get tricky. For example, Vaccinium microcarpum, often called Bog or Small Cranberry, is sometimes listed as its own species, native to Europe, as well as, Alaska and Canada, but the USDA considers it synonymous with V. oxycoccos. Cranberrry can be identified as subgenus Oxycoccus instead of genus Vaccinium. So in reading and shopping, you may find the same V. oxycoccos described as Oxycoccus microcarpos or O. palustris. And a plant like Vaccinium vitis-idaea L. ssp. minus, commonly known as Northern Mountain Cranberry, is actually an American subspecies of Ligonberry, native to New England, the Upper Midwest and Canada. Close, but not really a Cranberry. And more than a tad confusing.
|Vaccinium macrocarpon 'Stevens' from Edible Landscaping|
The Cranberry has been a vital part of the American diet and culture for millennia;
It thrives naturally in the aforementioned habitat, especially where glacial deposits have left layers of sand and peat;
Vaccinium macrocarpon, also known as Large or American Cranberry, is the most common species used for both commercial and decorative endeavors. Native to the East Coast, from Quebec to North Carolina, through the Upper Midwest, and then along the Pacific Coast, V. macrocarpon is hardy in Zones 2-7, reaches about 1’ tall and can spread 1’-6’ wide.
And if you’re thinking you need to create a bog in your backyard… never fear. You can grow Cranberries as an ornamental groundcover in your home landscape. Pick a sunny spot (with afternoon protection if you live in Zones 6 and 7), amend the soil, much as you would for Blueberries, keep your Cranberries hydrated and enjoy. Edible Landscaping, a local mail-order nursery with a national following, recommends growing them in hanging baskets or containers where you can better control the soil and moisture content. I can easily envision a pair of beautiful pots, surrounded by Narcissus ‘Polar Ice’ and Summer Snowflake (Leucojum aestivum), overflowing with evergreen foliage, plus pinkish-white, elongated-bellflowers and, of course, the berries we know and love.
|Wouldn't 'Stevens' be lovely in this lichen-green glazed planter from Campania International?|
|The delicate 'Polar Ice' Daffodil from Brent and Becky's Bulbs|
Viburnum trilobum, also known as the American Cranberrybush or High Bush Cranberry, is another garden-worthy native that dons Christmas colors, almost year round. Of course, it’s not a Cranberry at all. But it is very pretty and provides four seasons of interest.
|Viburnum trilobum 'Redwing', developed by Johnson's Nursery,|
is one of the prettiest in bloom and
It blooms when in leaf – large, flat, milky lace umbels, not unlike certain Hydrangea, that appear in May and June. Hardy in Zones 2-7 and preferring acidic, moist but well-drained soil, V. trilobum can serve as a cool backdrop for your sunny border or filtered shade garden. Clusters of scarlet drupes (truly the color we think of as cranberry or cardinal red) mature in early autumn.
They are seriously sour but can be made into jellies and jams or left on the shrub where they will linger through winter, eventually softening, darkening, as a lovely foil to maroon fall foliage and an attraction for local birds and wildlife.
|All V. trilobum sport Maple-like leaves,|
but 'Redwing' glows with new growth of bronzy red.
Powdery mildew and Viburnum Leaf Beetle can be problems for V. trilobum, but otherwise it is an easy-going shrub. It’s a good replacement for some of my roses. But in a more suburban setting, I would love to create a small grove of High Bush Cranberries interplanted with Kalmia latifolia ‘Elf’ and ‘Peppermint’
|Kalmia latifolia 'Peppermint' from Meadowbrook Nursery in North Carolina.|
and the Kurume Azalea ‘Christmas Cheer’,
|Colesville Nursery in Ashland, VA, is both a wholesale grower and retail garden center.|
They usually stock 'Christmas Cheer'.
with one or two Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snowflake’ and H. paniculata ‘Fire and Ice’, for quick succession of spring-summer bloom and appeal throughout the year… all in Yuletide colors.
|'Snowflake' is an Oakleaf Hydrangea, but the long blossoms almost look like those of H. paniculata.|
Absolutely beautiful flowers, peeling bark and fall foliage if you have the space.
From Meadowbrook Nursery
I can imagine sun-drenched steps flanked byDelosperma cooperi ‘Lavender Ice’,
|'Lavender Ice' and other varieties of Delosperma can be found at Bluestone Perennials.|
|'Cranberry Ice' is a favorite at Wayside Gardens.|
|'Icicle' also at Bluestone Perennials|
Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Gingerbread’,
|Rare Find Nursery in Jackson, NJ, has an amazing selection of Witch Hazels,|
including the slightly more petite 'Gingerbread'.
|'Snow Storm' and|
|'Candy Mountain' are available at Bluestone Perennials.|
Visit them in person or via the internet.
or blanket a sunny bank with
Paeonia ‘Snow Clouds’,
|'Snow Clouds' can be ordered through Viette Nurseries and|
|'Snow Fairy' is still in stock at Bluestone Perennials.|
|If you can't find 'Fragrant Angel' at your local garden center,|
check with White Flower Farm.
And if your landscape is usually all green: Boxwood and Hosta, ornamental grasses and Pachysandra, then consider adding Hibiscus rosa-sinensis ‘Snow Queen’
|A local grower usually brings 'Snow Queen' to our farmer's market...|
at least once we're safely into May. It's not usually hardy north of Zone 8.
Check with Mr. Jack's Farm in Charlotte, NC, if you can't find it in your town.
or Dahlia ‘Santa Claus’
|Dahlia 'Santa Claus' is available through Burpee's catalog or website.|
for flamboyantly festive blooms in late summer and fall when other gardens in the neighborhood have completely petered out.