As you know, I live in a Mediterranean climate with hot summers and cool but mild winters. According to the USDA Hardiness Zone Map, we’re in zone 9b. This means that I can grow a wide variety of plants that might be considered exotic elsewhere, such as citrus and subtropical clumper bamboos. The flip side of the coin is that perennials that make gardeners yawn in the states like Missouri—like lilacs, peonies and hostas—are amazingly difficult to grow here because it just doesn’t get cold enough. I dream of having gunneras of monster proportions in my yard, but it will never happen!
Lenten roses, or hellebores, fall in the same category. I’ve tried several over the years, but the result was always the same: eventual demise. The UC Davis Aboretum appears to have better luck than I do!
I had just about given up on hellebores when I came across this listing on SequimRarePlants.com:
Helleborus 'Janet Starnes'
Named by Phillip Curtis Farms (a wholesale nursery no longer in business) for plantswoman Janet Starnes of Molalla, Oregon, who found the original in a batch of seedlings. To quote their 1999 wholesale catalog, "shining blue-green leaves are dusted with galaxies of white and dark green stars. New leaves, almost cream colored, are fringed with pink; older leaves darken to a marbled green. Clouds of soft green flowers in early sping. Named for the Janet Starnes." Blooms on the previous year's growth. The flowers are showy, but the main attraction is the unusual foliage. Some gardeners cut off the flowers at the ground in early spring to allow a better view of the creamy colored new growth. Cold hardy to -10°F.
I was hooked by the bit about “galaxies of white and dark green stars.” Since I was ordering some other plants from them anyway, I thought I’d take a chance. The plant I received was small, but I put it in the ground in the backyard near our two cordylines.
In December, it looked like this. I love the mottled foliage that stays evergreen year round, and I didn’t really expect more than that.
|Helleborus argutifolius ‘Janet Starnes’ in December 2011|
However, in January flower buds started to form:
|Helleborus argutifolius ‘Janet Starnes’ in January 2012|
Now, in mid-March, the plant is in full flower:
|Helleborus argutifolius ‘Janet Starnes’ in March 2012|
|Helleborus argutifolius ‘Janet Starnes’ flowers|
Jaded gardeners may think that these greenish-white flowers are nothing to write home about, but I vehemently disagree. I think they are stunning!
|Helleborus argutifolius ‘Janet Starnes’ flower up close|
This is the first hellebore I’ve managed to keep alive for more than a season, and to me it’s eye candy year round.