Marianne Binetti

Binetti: Now’s the right time to bring on the hellebores

The end of February is the time to add heavenly hellebores and other early bloomers to the landscape. Local nurseries are bursting with new and exotic hellebore varieties, thanks to a local wholesale grower in the Skagit Valley who has made these perennials the stars of the winter garden in Western Washington.

If you are anxious to celebrate the new spring season then use these tips to design an early spring theme garden that will warm hearts as we wait for warmer weather.


Bark up the right tree: Flowering trees that burst into bloom during the month of March or even sooner include flowering plums and cherries, but those disease-prone trees can cause a lot of heartache as wet, spring weather encourages problems.

The more practical approach would be to invest in a great tree with beautiful bark. That way, the early bloomers you plant nearby would attract attention to the more subtle colors and textures of coral bark, peeling bark and quirky shapes.

Best background trees for early spring:

Paper bark maple (Acer griseum) has cinnamon-brown, peeling bark and is able to adapt to full sun or the mostly shaded areas of the garden.

The corkscrew filbert (Corylus avellana “Contorta” also called Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick) adds a light-hearted touch to any garden scene with the twisting nature of the slender branches but early spring is when this small tree really shows off with dangling catkins of lime green color.

Another small tree but with brilliant coral bark is the Japanese maple “Sango Kaku.” This specimen is a winter garden classic and in early spring the brilliant color and slender shape makes it a star in almost any location. As a bonus, this maple also offers butter- yellow foliage color.

Light up the landscape with early spring shrubs: Bright yellow blooms of forsythia welcome spring all over the Northwest and this easy-to-grow shrub can be enjoyed as a casual hedging plant or placed in the back of a garden bed to provide blooms in the spring and a quiet green background in the summer.

The evergreen rhododendron “P.J.M.” is hardy, dependable and compact with lavender blooms that will cover the plant in the month of March no matter how cold and windy the weather. Camellias, daphne, witch hazel and heathers are other blooming shrubs just waiting to be adopted into your early spring garden.

Early performing perennials that deserve center stage: So here’s the deal. Everyone has flowers in the month of May, and hanging baskets and potted containers burst with bloom all summer long. Why not be different?

Early spring and late-winter flowers are much less common and much more appreciated. Thanks to local nurseries, they also are easier to find and less expensive than ever before.

We have so many gray, damp days in Western Washington during the month of March that planting these early bloomers into public and private gardens should become the law of the land — just to ensure the mental health of all state residents.

Somebody should pass a law — you must add these to your landscape now:

Hellebores: The backbone of winter and early spring gardens these tough perennials are, drought, slug- and deer-resistant and they flower in the shade of trees and beneath your overgrown rhododendrons.

New varieties offer blooms in shades of yellow, peach, purple, green and spotted shades with lovely double flowers that resemble roses or water lilies. Buy your first hellebore plant this year for generations of winter blossoms or add to your collection to create a rainbow of early color. Do it now before they pass the law and make it mandatory.

Early Bulbs: Crocus, snowdrop, grape hyacinth and dwarf daffodils flower early and remind us that summer is on the way. Forgetful gardeners do not have to remember to plant these spring blooming bulbs in the fall. Local nurseries and garden centers offer potted bulbs now already in bud or bloom so you can slip them into pots and planters, add them to your landscape or even bring them indoors to celebrate the end of winter.