Favorite or New Plant
The Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) is a very hardy perennial (to USDA Zone 3) that grows 15 to 30 inches tall. It has handsome, dark, leathery leaves divided into seven leaflets, which are reliably evergreen where winter lows do not dip much below 10 degrees F. The single flowers -- borne one, two or three to a stalk -- are a warm white, faintly touched with shell pink and crowded with gold stamens. As with all hellebores, the showy part of the Christmas rose is made up not of petals but of sepals.
Christmas roses bloom reliably at Christmas time in our climate, and I find it magical to find them in bloom surrounded by a mantle of crusty snow. Mud is their only enemy; splashes of it stain their purity. I find that a thick mulch applied in autumn eliminates the problem. In colder winter areas, Christmas rose blooms in early spring. Grow in light to deep shade, in well-drained, humus-rich soil. I think they look best in small groups or massed as ground covers under tall shrubs.
Tool or Gardening Product
A tool I wouldn't want to be without is my Garden Weasel. It's a shallow cultivator with revolving tines that dig into the soil surface, effectively removing weeds and improving the soil's tilth. It's excellent for preparing the soil for seeding, for roughing up bare spots in the lawn, or for gently working around young vegetable plantings. It sells for about $30.
I used the Garden Weasel this fall to cultivate damaged lawn for overseeding. By turning the long handle one way or the other, you can adjust the depth of cultivation from 1 to 2 inches. My only complaint is that while it's an excellent weeder for shallow-rooted things, it doesn't phase dandelions.