Size: Front garden is 20 by 8.5 metres (property is 20 by 36.6 metres) Zone: 7
Conditions: Loamy soil enriched every spring; part sun
Growing season: Year-round
Focus: Perennials including collections of hellebores and epimediums, with an overall woodland feel
Years gardening: 18
Favourite products: Lee Valley weed brush for clearing between patio stones; an old wooden dibber from her father-in-law in Holland
Special tips: Don’t poke around or clean up too much in spring—be patient; walk about to see what plants work best in your area
A annual hellebore parade
Vancouver’s Susan Koelink isn’t one to play plant favourites, but admits her heart beats faster every spring when her ravishing collection of hellebores puts on its parade of exquisite nodding blooms. “I loved them before I even knew what they were,” she says. “I saw some needlepoint pillows done in these gorgeous flowers nine years ago and had to buy them. Well, then I discovered the real thing in the nursery, and the love affair blossomed.”
Now her Point Grey garden is embroidered with an array of single and double forms in white, rose, green, yellow, purple and crimson-black. The bell- or cup-shaped “flowers” last for weeks and change colour as they age, because they’re not really petals but sepals, surrounding a boss of pistils and stamens. “You have to lift their heads to see their beautiful faces that are often freckled or flushed with contrasting colours,” says Susan, bending down to peep into a frilly, soft pink bloom outlined in cerise. “This is ‘Peppermint Ice’, one of the wonderful Winter Jewels Series. It’s hard to get that picotee edging, so this is exceptional.” She’s quick to show more marvels, from the glowing apricot ‘Amber Gem’ with its red striations to the rich plum ‘Blue Lady’ (one of the Lady Series from Jelitto Perennial Seeds in Germany).
Her enthusiasm warms up what is a singularly chilly April day, with rain and even some sleet thrown in. We may be dismayed by the weather but the hellebores appear undaunted. Once established, they are remarkably tolerant of cold, heat, drought and, obviously, rain, though they do like excellent drainage and humusy soil. With the seven cubic yards of compost-rich Soil Amender that Susan applies to the garden each spring, these plants are definitely fat and happy.
Hellebores take centre stage when their subtle charms can be truly appreciated “before the brash yellows, corals and purples that jostle for attention later,” says Susan. In her intricate garden, they are complemented by a brilliant cast of supporting players, including airy epimediums, unfurling ferns, dainty cyclamen, sweet little hepaticas and dwarf daffodils.
Main image: H. ×h. Spotted Double Pink