Originally created 12/30/00

Georgia gardens draw flower lovers



BISHOP, Ga. - The scenic hellebore gardens at Sam and Carleen Jones' Picadilly Farms in Oconee County have become a lure for garden enthusiasts throughout the eastern United States, and are being profiled in two prominent gardening magazines.

The profiles, available at newsstands, are in the January issue of Southern Living and the February issue of Country Living Gardener. The profiles include stories and photos of the operation, displaying plants in peak bloom early last March.

Both articles mention the lure of the plants - also known as Lenten roses - is that they survive in harsh climates, are drought-resistant, bloom into numerous colors and have a long bloom period extending from winter through March. Most important, Mr. Jones said Thursday, deer won't eat the plants.

Mr. Jones sells the plants retail to local residents and wholesale throughout the East Coast. A former botany professor at the University of Georgia, Mr. Jones has cornered the market on hellebores since entering the business in 1981.

Mr. Jones said his hellebore farms have gained more recognition among gardeners nationally than among local gardening enthusiasts. The New York Times featured Mr. Jones' hellebore farm in a full-page spread with an article and photos a few years ago.

The operation is perhaps most well-known for its annual Hellebore Days, set for March 2-3. Mr. Jones said the festival, which began in 1992, was originally the only event of its kind. It is now mimicked by a few growers throughout the country, he said.

Hellebore Days draws visitors from Pennsylvania, Maryland and across the eastern United States, Mr. Jones said. Mrs. Jones said she expects 1,800 people to attend the March event this year.

"We became the largest producers of hellebores in the country," Mr. Jones said. "They had not been available, and people didn't know about them."

The plants range in color from solid white to yellow, burgundy, purple and other colors. The plants originated in Eastern Europe and are commonly grown in European countries.

Mrs. Jones said she doesn't attempt to produce any particular hybrid of the flowers, but lets the plants cross-pollinate by natural means. The result is always a batch of flowers with different sizes, shapes and colors, she said.

"There's no two flowers that are really alike," she said. "People like to go through and pick out the ones they want. That's why we sell so many hellebores, because when people come and when the plants are in bloom, there's so many different colors to choose from."