A week ago my friend and I travelled 70 miles north into southern Virginia to attend a hellebore festival at Pine Knot Farms (PKF).
I learned of this event a few years ago when the hellebore nursery owners, Dick Tyler and Judith Knott Tyler, spoke at a local garden club meeting. The couple holds this open house annually for three weekends in late winter, obviously the time when hellebores are in season.
Two years ago I had attempted to visit Pine Knot Farms but my travel plans were thwarted by an ice storm. So when after a fundraiser event last spring my friend ended up with two gift certificates for PKF, I jumped at the chance to try again to visit this nursery.
Weather in February is particularly variable and unpredictable. This year our trip seemed threatened again.
A week before the festival started, another big snow and ice storm arrived. Fortunately the ice cleared up quickly though and the day of our visit was picture-book lovely, deep blue sky, sunny and temperatures in mid-60s F. [Where I reside in piedmont North Carolina, people are used to this back and forth kind of weather, often remarking they like living in a place where they can experience four distinct seasons of the year, sometimes all in one day.]
We arrived at the hellebore festival in the late morning, about an hour after opening, surprised there were not larger crowds. We parked easily and were directed toward the greenhouses.
At the first greenhouse we were quickly ushered in and greeted by friendly smiles, shown coffee and cookies.
Next we were given guidelines about where to find each category of hellebore: seedlings on this table (some from their friends Ernie and Marietta O’Byrne at Northwest Garden Nursery), other vendors offering spring ephemerals here, all PKF singles in the back set of greenhouses on the left, PKF doubles in the greenhouse on the right (or vice-versa).
Already by this time, just hearing these directions, I was overwhelmed and I think my friend was as well.
In anticipation of this trip I had tried to prepare myself by looking on PKF’s website at the categories of hellebores they sell: Hellebores species, Interspecies Hybrids, Helleborus x hybrids, and Northwest Garden Nursery Hellebores. But despite this minor research and later during the trip, despite several engaging conversations with willing and knowledgeable staff, I was hesitant about how to sort out the differences among the hellebores being offered.
Many of the hellebores were not yet in bloom and later we wondered if our choices would have been made easier by visiting the third weekend of the festival rather than the first. Perhaps more flowers would have been open and that would have made it easier for an hellebore novices like us to decide.
I wish I had just pointed to some of the flowers floating in dishes and asked for them, but in the end it all went fine. Even though we never found hellebore enlightenment we had a good time exploring the offerings.
Before I could get started shopping for hellebores, I became distracted by other vendor tables, including one with a beautiful array of Cyclamen coum. There was also a nice display of primroses in bloom and affordably priced, but I decided to concentrate first on the hellebores. I do regret not picking up a few of these cyclamen.
We made our way into the back greenhouses. Along the route there were a few other temptations, in particular daphnes and a really nice edgeworthia.
Soon we were carrying around pots of hellebores. A white double with greenish overtones was the first plant I chose. I also found a single with a greenish cast.
Below is another single that was especially charming. The green coloring with tinges of red/pink reminds me of apple.
I selected other hellebores in Golden Sunrise and Apricot Blush color ranges. The apricot blush is not yet blooming but the golden sunrise has two flowers.
One color I was especially interested in acquiring was dark purple. I had already picked up one of these Black Diamonds without a bloom. When I asked about finding others the man I spoke to said he and others had been commenting that this year the darks are scarce. He accompanied me back to the seedlings table to help me search.
While we were talking he stopped suddenly having spotted this little plant, also a seedling. He suggested it was unusual and I might want to buy it because of it unusual marking. I did.
One useful tip he offered was that it can be more successful to gather ripened seeds and toss them where you want new plants, instead of transplanting the the little seedlings that spring up on their own.
Eventually my friend and I settled on our purchases. She generously shared a gift certificate with me, making check-out time a lot less painful. Back in Chapel Hill we discussed hellebores over a late lunch.
Unfortunately I did not get a picture of her plants before we parted; however, within a few minutes after returning home I was photographing my new plants on the front porch.
Serendipitously, a neighbor stopped by my house, opened her car trunk and lifted out two Bearclaw hellebores she had dug from her yard that morning for me. A nice gesture.
Visiting the hellebore nursery made for a fun expedition and I was happy at the chance to expand my collection. Hellebores are winter-flowering wonders.