legend of the Christmas Rose tells the story of a young shepherdess who wanted
to bring a gift to the newly-born Christ Child. Too poor to afford something grand and
luxurious and unable to find even the simplest flower blooming in the dead of
winter, she began to weep. An angel
witnessed her distress and took pity. Miraculously,
a plant emerged where her tears touched the ground, and she was able to present
its beautiful white flowers to the Baby Jesus.
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.
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.
I’ve never seen any Hellebore bloom at Christmas, at least not around here. They usually refresh themselves about a month
later… sprouting new growth and unfurling their faces, shiny white with lots of
yellow stamens, and tinges of pink or acid green, that blush as they age. I can see why they are often linked with St.
Agnes of Rome, as a symbol of innocence and renewal, and in celebration of her
Feast Day on January 21.
|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.
let’s face it. Anything that flowers in
the middle of winter is a miracle!
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.
have gained popularity in recent years for their relatively-easy care,
deer-resistant foliage and drought tolerance. In general, they are happiest in well-drained
soil and partial shade in Zones 4-9. The
most spectacular tend to be interspecies hybrids.
|The star-like Helleborus niger 'Double Fantasy',|
|H. x ballardiae 'Cinnamon Snow', |
Knot Farms is hosting the second half of their annual open house, today and
Sunday. But they also attend plant sales
and festivals throughout the Mid-Atlantic, so don’t worry if you can’t make it
to Southside Virginia this weekend.
|H. x hybridus 'Peppermint Ice' and|
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
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
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.
what I think is important to know:
Cranberry has been a vital part of the American diet and culture for millennia;
thrives naturally in the aforementioned habitat, especially where glacial
deposits have left layers of sand and peat;
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
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
the way, cranberries for juice, canned sauce and jelly are harvested
wet. You know that iconic scene when the
fields are flooded and the berries are corralled in what look like giant
islands of red? But whole Cranberries,
like the ones we use for baking, are harvested dry, just as we would in our own
gardens. Well, maybe on a slightly
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.
again, take note. Viburnum trilobum
is sometimes identified as Viburnum opulus L. var. americanum or Viburnum
opulus ssp. trilobum but should not be confused with the European Viburnum
opulus, also known as Cranberrybush or Guelder Rose, which has proven to be
invasive in certain states. Both species,
the native and foreign, have varieties named ‘Compactum’.
|All V. trilobum sport Maple-like leaves,|
but 'Redwing' glows with new growth of bronzy red.
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’
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.
Christmas is a lot more than green, red and white. It is a season full of richly saturated
pigments… sugar-dusted candy and gaudy holiday lights…, the warm, comforting
hues of oranges and spice cake, and pale shades just on the cusp of another
like shimmering champagne and frosted moonlight. Why not capture some of these colors, slightly
burnished or silvered, fantastical and fun, in your own garden?
|'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
can imagine sun-drenched steps flanked by
Delosperma cooperi ‘Lavender Ice’,
Dianthus ‘Cranberry Ice’
and Veronica spicata
sheltered corner with
x intermedia ‘Gingerbread’,
Callicarpa japonica ‘Snow Storm’,
|Rare Find Nursery in Jackson, NJ, has an amazing selection of Witch Hazels,|
including the slightly more petite 'Gingerbread'.
purpurea ‘Candy Mountain’
and Lilium ‘Star Gazer’ for bits of joyful
color, from blossoms, berries and leaves, throughout the year;
blanket a sunny bank with
Caryopteris divaricata ‘Snow Fairy’
and Echinacea purpurea
|'Snow Storm' and|
to mimic snowflakes and twinkling stars in the middle of
sunshine-y, summer days.
|If you can't find 'Fragrant Angel' at your local garden center,|
check with White Flower Farm.
if your landscape is usually all green: Boxwood and Hosta, ornamental grasses
and Pachysandra, then consider adding Hibiscus rosa-sinensis ‘Snow
|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