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Saugus Gardens in the Winter

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Here’s what’s blooming in town this week to make your walks more enjoyable


By Laura Eisener


Many people were out on Saturday afternoon observing the results of the storm surge. Hamilton Street was closed off because the Saugus River had risen across the bridge, and down at the Saugus Iron Works the corduroy bridges were covered by a few inches, as was the dock, though before sunset the tide was beginning to subside and people could walk on the dock and bridges as long as their footwear was waterproof.

The wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) have been walking around Saugus, but recently one of their favorite stomping grounds has been the Iron Works. Early this weekend a dozen of them were gathered in the small fenced in spaces where Pleasant Street meets Central Street – an odd little piece of the national park that remained as a result of changing the route of Central when digging for artifacts from 1948-1953. These two leftover land pieces have clusters of tall eastern white pines (Pinus strobus) where on Saturday the dozen birds were all kicking to turn over the long pine needles, looking for something delectable underneath. Not many plants grow under the dense mulch of pine needles, which can become fairly deep. The rafter of turkeys may have been looking for pine seeds from the scattered open cones, or possibly for insects hidden under the insulating pine needle mulch.

There are few flowers in bloom outdoors in January in Saugus gardens, but with planning people can expect to have some flowers in winter. A handful of species in the hellebore genus (Helleborus spp.) are known for flowering in the coldest months, and these perennials have the added advantage of evergreen foliage. They are fairly low maintenance, and they all actually prefer shade and partial shade. They have been available, but not necessarily well-known, for many decades. In very recent years, this has changed due to availability of new hybrids with a wider range of shades, as well as the sale of them as showy flowering houseplants in the winter. Many people have no idea that these plants can be kept alive until the ground has warmed a bit and can be planted to become long-lasting reliable perennials.

This year one of them – often known as Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) – came into nearly full bloom at Christmas. The ups and downs of temperature didn’t allow full bloom, though, until this week. This individual plant had been purchased as a houseplant last winter and planted outside in spring.

This summer’s weather provided exactly what all species of Hellebore seem to like, which is an abundant supply of water. I realized that a couple of winters ago when my houseplants were constantly thirsty and would remind me by wilting dramatically If I did not provide water frequently enough.

For a few years now I have had their relative, a Lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis) with deep pink to nearly maroon flowers out in the garden. Last year it had a number of buds that looked ready to bloom, but after over a month of checking them over, they completely collapsed on February 4 when the temperatures abruptly plummeted. Not only did they not bloom then, but they had to develop new buds and did not start blooming until much later in the spring than any I had ever seen. When will these deep pink buds open this year? It all will depend on the capriciousness of weather.

We have been hearing a lot this winter about “expectations,” a word that has been heard frequently in relation to football this season, but it can also be applied to gardens. Some years the plants perform beautifully, and other times the wrong weather, insect attack or even the gardener’s own inattention can result in a disappointing performance. Indoors we are waiting with bated breath for the appearance – or not – of buds on the amaryllis (Hippeastrum spp.) we had put into the dark in the fall. None of them bloomed at Christmas, but there are two plants now unboxed that have flower buds developing. One has two stalks, and one has just one, and I forgot to label the colors when I put them away.


  Editor’s Note: Laura Eisener is a landscape design consultant who helps homeowners with landscape design, plant selection and placement of trees and shrubs, as well as perennials. She is a member of the Saugus Garden Club and offered to write a series of articles about “what’s blooming in town” shortly after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. She was inspired after seeing so many people taking up walking.

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