Q: What's so special about hellebores? I see them everywhere and they don't look that great to me. A: In two words: winter flowers. Hellebores are evergreen perennials...

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Q: What’s so special about hellebores? I see them everywhere and they don’t look that great to me.

A: In two words: winter flowers. Hellebores are evergreen perennials that bloom during the darkest months of the year. From the Lenten rose (Helleborus niger) with big snowy blossoms as early as mid-December, to the freckle-faced hybrids in colors from yellow to plum, hellebores offer the color we crave in winter when not much else is in bloom. Plus they’re hardy, have handsome foliage, and are easy to grow.

Q: I have a mature landscape with dogwoods, tall Fuji cherry and larger ornamental maples. I also have a pond that is being overrun by a very vertical maple that sits above it. Is there a pruning technique for it? If I do understory plantings, isn’t there still a lot of maintenance?

A: First, you might consider removing your overgrown maple, because it sounds like the size and shape are wrong for your garden.

It’s a losing battle to try and prune a tree to fit a location for which it’s ill-suited, and only results in a frustrated gardener and a disfigured tree.

Instead, you might replace the maple with a small-scale Japanese maple, an enkianthus, vine maple or other shrub or small tree with a pleasing shape.

If you choose understory plantings wisely, you can cut maintenance to a minimum. Native and ornamental shrubs suited to your garden’s conditions will become reasonably self-sufficient after a couple of years.

If, as I suspect, your mature garden is fairly shady, Oregon grape, elderberries, huckleberries and flowering currant might be good choices.

Q: I was working at a customer’s house the day after Thanksgiving when a hummingbird arrived at their liquid-filled feeder. I assumed that hummingbirds had all migrated south for the winter.

“Oh yes, they are still around,” was the homeowner’s response.

Last summer I saw a hummingbird flitting around my yard, but I’ve never had any plants that are hummingbird-friendly. I wondered what I should get? I guessed that the appropriate plants would be seasonal, with all the upkeep that entails. (My dead tomatoes await disposal.)

Is there some plant or shrub that can provide feed for the little birds? I can’t believe that they would rely 100 percent on human kindness for winter syrup.

A: It must have been an Anna’s hummingbird that visited your customer’s feeder, for they’re the only kind of hummingbird that winters over in the Northwest.

The males have greenish sides and an iridescent rose cap and throat; females have a rose-colored patch on their throats. In cold weather, Anna’s hummingbirds rely on feeders, insects and the few flowers that blossom in winter for sustenance in the colder months.

You’re in luck on upkeep, because hummingbirds love sturdy, easy-care native plants like red flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum) and snowberry (Symphoricarpos spp.). They’re attracted to nectar-rich plants that have tubular-shaped blossoms in shades of bright red and orange, such as fuchsias and cape fuchsias (Phygelius ssp.).

It’s not just plants that draw hummingbirds to a garden; they also love birdbaths and the sound of running water. Remember to garden organically and keep house cats inside so hummingbirds can visit your garden safely.

“Landscaping for Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest,” by Russell Link, has pages of information on our local hummingbirds and how to enjoy them.

Valerie Easton also writes about Plant Life in Sunday’s Pacific Northwest Magazine. Write to her at P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111 or e-mail planttalk@seattletimes.com with your questions. Sorry, no personal replies.