By: Mary Ellen Ellis
Hellebore varieties are numerous and include a range of colors and even double petals. This pretty little flower is a great choice for many gardens, not just for the many varieties, but also because it blooms when most other flowers are done or have yet to start for the year. For an extended blooming season in your garden, choose one or more of these types of hellebores.
These perennial flowers are hardy to zone 4, so they can grow in many different gardens. They produce flowers early in spring and have evergreen foliage, so hellebore adds color and texture year round. In milder climates, they may even produce flowers as early as January.
Deer resistant and untroubled by many other pests, these flowers are also easy to grow. They prefer rich soil, partial shade, and only some watering during summer and dry conditions. The most difficult thing you’ll find with growing hellebore is choosing the variety.
Among the many varieties of hellebore, you’ll find a complete range of colors, making it difficult but fun to choose one or more for your garden:
Corsican hellebore. This variety does not produce the largest or most dramatic hellebore flowers, but it does grow vigorously and creates lush foliage. The flowers are small and pale green.
Ivory prince. This pretty variety produces an abundance of ivory colored flowers that also have chartreuse and blush veining in the petals. The foliage is blue-green and the plant is compact in size and density.
Winter Jewels. This is a series of hellebore varieties designed to produce large blooms in a range of colors. These are also known as Lenten rose. There is Cherry Blossom, white and pink flowers with red centers; Golden Sunrise, which is yellow; Apricot Blush with apricot tinged, white petals; and the stunning Black Diamond. The latter produces purple foliage that turns green and dark burgundy blooms that are nearly black.
Fragrant hellebore. For aroma as well as visual interest, choose the fragrant hellebore. The flowers are large and a vivid lime-green to yellow in color. They produce a fragrance that can vary from sweet to a little bit skunky.
Picotee Lady. This variety of hellebore develops green-white flowers with pink veining and dark red around the edge of each petal.
Double Ladies. The double ladies are hellebore plants that produce double-petal blooms. They come in several shades, including red, pink, white, yellow, and purple.
With so many hellebore varieties to choose from, not to mention the qualities of being easy to grow and producing winter-to-spring blossoms, this particular perennial is a top choice for four-season gardeners.
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Read more about Hellebore
Galanthophiles aren’t the only plant enthusiasts feeling feverish in the garden at this time of the year. Hellebore fans are still delighting in these woodland plants that provide something delicate to discover in the dappled sunlight of early spring.
Originating in the Balkans, hellebores (Helleborus) belong to the Ranunculaceae or buttercup family. They have a relatively long flowering period from December through till spring.
William Dyson has been growing hellebores at Great Comp Garden in Kent for 40 years. He explains, “The lenten rose types grow almost anywhere that’s damp and well drained with dappled shade. We grow hundreds of them in our woodland.”
Helleborus x hybridus unnamed. Credit: Vikki Rimmer
“We remove old leaves from our plants in early December to prevent black spot spores from infecting the new growth that emerges in the new year. Though hellebores are evergreen, they don’t need pruning, and I have several clumps of double-flowered hybrids in my own garden that have never been pruned.”
William advises gardeners to wear gloves when pruning their hellebores. “Make sure you are wearing gloves as the sap of the hellebore can irritate the skin. With gloves on and secateurs in hand, look out for any new growth. As this appears, snip off last year’s growth at the base of the plant.”
Hellebore enthusiasts should grow their plants in a woodland spot that provides protection from the elements and receives enough dappled sunlight to prevent flower droop. It’s also advisable to encourage plants to face the sun.
William says, “I’m often asked why hellebores droop, and it seems that they do this as a defence mechanism against rain, sleet and snow. Helleborus niger faces outwards rather than drooping, so hybridization with this species will produce flowers that don’t droop.”
Helleborus niger ‘Snowdrift’. Credit: Vikki Rimmer
With lots of varieties to choose from, William underlines that it’s worth choosing your hellebores not just for their flowers, but also for their foliage. “The hellebore collection in our central woodland areas has been boosted this year by the addition of Helleborus niger ‘Snowdrift’ and Helleborus hybridus ‘Pink Ballerina’.
The latter is an orientalis hybrid that produces multiple fully double, soft pink flowers from January through to March. These plants have really interesting foliage that provides interest throughout the year.”
If you’re in the market for a hellebore, William recommends a trip to Ashwood Nurseries in the West Midlands. “The plants at Ashwood Nurseries are incredible – owner John Massey VMH has been breeding hellebores for decades and knows more about them than anyone in the world. I recommend seeking out his hybrids and also visiting ‘John’s Garden’, which was created by the owner.”
Get inspired by the beautiful display of hellebores in Great Comp Garden’s woodland:
Veratrum viride, or false hellebore isn’t a member of the hellebore family at all. In fact, it belongs to the lily family, and is also highly toxic. Legend says that Alexander the Great died of white hellebore poisoning after encouraging his doctor to use it in his treatments. He may have wanted to prove his strength by taking a dangerous purgative, or he may have been maliciously poisoned.
These beautiful flowers look like wild roses or large buttercups. They’re frost-resistant, evergreen plants with cup-like flowers that range anywhere from pale green to deep maroon-black in color.
They bloom between midwinter and early spring, often springing up out of the snow. Additionally, they grow well in zones 4 through 9, and may even be hardy enough to provide late winter color as far north as zone 3.
Hellebore’s ability to thrive in northern gardens and provide color to wintery gardens endears it to modern gardeners, who want to brighten up a bleak, February landscape. But its history in legend and folklore is full of excitement, mysteries, and dangers.
Hellebores, Lenten Rose, Winter Rose… whatever you call them, these plants are outstanding! The name hellebore comes from the genus name Helleborus. Most of the Hellebores available are Helleborus orientalis or a hybrid Helleborus x hybridus.
There aren’t many shade to part sun perennials that are evergreen and bloom. And hellebores might just be the only winter blooming one hardy in our area! Leathery leaves stay present year round remove damaged leaves as they appear or in clean ups each season. The thick leaves of the hellebores are fairly deer and rabbit resistant.
This is one of those perennials that sleep, creep, then leap! The first few years, the plant focuses on root growth, then the clump will get slightly larger… and if they are planted in a good location and have gotten the right care, they take off. We talk to customers all the time, that planted them and then kind of ignored them and a few years after planting, their almost forgotten plants become the star of their shade gardens!
Older varieties of hellebores have nodding blooms that face downward. Breeding has been focused on the development of larger blooms, and blooms that face upward. New colors are also being released we have included images of some of the varieties we have in stock right now (February 2020) throughout this post. What we see as flowers are actually the sepals of the bloom the flowers themselves are inconspicuous.
‘Flowers’ are generally shades white, rose, purple, and green. Some varieties have spotted flowers, others are bicolor or streaked, and still others are double. Hellebore flowers can be up to 2 inches in diameter! Size of plant, flower color and other attributes are variety specific.
And interesting tidbit shared by our perennial grower, Jen Mistretta, is in regards to the double flowers. You might notice that double flowers usually face downwards. This is a natural growth pattern to protect the blooms from rain, since water sheds well off the downward facing blooms.
Like many of our landscape plants, they like well drained soil if the roots stay too wet, issues will arise.
Here in central Arkansas, protection from the hot afternoon sun is needed. Plant in part sun areas that get morning sun or dappled afternoon sun. Although the plants grow well in shady spots, if the shade is too dense, they may not flower well.
Because the soils in our area tend to contain clay and lack organic materials, we suggest amending your soil when planting landscape plants. A 70% native soil to 30% soil amendment is a good ratio to keep in mind. To help roots get established, use our Good Earth brand Jump Start at planting.
Take note of where the plant crowns are in the pot before planting. The crown is where the stems meet the soil and it’s important to keep this area at or slightly above the surrounding soil level. Planting hellebores too deep can cause plant decline or even plant death. This is also true with another shade perennial, heuchera and relatives, tiarella and heucherella.
A good general rule of thumb is to dig a hole at the same depth as the root ball of the plant you are about to plant and twice as wide. However, hellebores grow deep roots so consider digging deeper than the pot and amending the soil underneath where the root ball will sit. This can be a little tricky because this amended soil will settle some and it’s key to keep hellebore crowns above soil level, as we mentioned above. If you choose to dig down and amend the soil at the bottom of the planting hole, you might need to play with the soil level to insure crowns stay at least an inch above surrounding soil level.
Hellebores don’t require much fertilization light applications of compost and a slow release natural fertilizer in the spring should be sufficient. The Jump Start we mentioned above works well as a top dressing of natural fertilizer. Whatever fertilizer you use, keep it away from the crown of the plant as even mild fertilizers on the crowns can cause damage.
Crowns need to remain above surrounding soil and mulch for that reason, don’t apply too much mulch around crowns. Light mulching only around hellebores.
Hellebores can get scale, a destructive insect pest. Scale can be easily missed because they are usually on the underside of leaves. Check your plants several times a year and treat as needed.
Division is seldom necessary but if needed, they can be divided in the fall. Make sure each division has at least three growth buds. Transplanting is also best done in the fall.