Gardeners and Hellebores
Ok, drumroll here….I think I can say that Hellebores are my favorite perennial plant. A well-kept secret of garden enthusiasts, Hellebores should be more widely known to serious and not so serious gardeners alike; this is a plant that is worth seeking out. What other plant resists deer, neglect, likes shade-even deep shade, is evergreen, arranges beautifully, and has stunning flowers? Did I mention that it blooms for 3 – 4 months of the year? That was not a typo- Hellebores bloom for at least 3 months, sometimes longer, starting in mid February for me in the mid-Atlantic region, and soldiering on until at least April or May. Increasingly, I have seen them for sale at Trader Joe’s and other unlikely places, so I think finally people are waking up to the value of this flower. Poisonous too and deer turn up their nose at these beautiful plants.
So, why isn’t this plant in more gardens? Several reasons…First they are pricey. Retail prices can range from $15 to $30 a piece. Second, when most people are browsing the garden centers in May, the plants have mostly finished their blooming show and people move on to fresher blooming plants. Third, Hellebore flower colors are usually subtle greens, pinks, and whites, and many gardeners want something brighter and flashier. But hybridizers are working on that with increasingly colorful flowers being released every year.
For bee and nature lovers, this plant is extra important because it is an early nectar source for pollinators. There isn’t much blooming when they are in their glory in the late winter and I am sure to see the flowers filled with bees on a warmer day.
Good Things Come to Those Who Wait
Another drawback other than their high price, and I warn my clients about this when I include them in a garden design; they take a while to establish. To get a nice size blooming clump, it will take about 5 years if you start with a quart size plant. So, in this day and age of instant gratification, this can be a deal stopper for some people.
Very few perennial plants can tolerate the winter snow and wind that nature throws at them in January and February, but Hellebores emerge in late February with a welcome spring show. Some of the evergreen foliage might get burned on the edges and get tattered but you can quickly nip off those leaves for fresh to emerge.
The most popular varieties are the Oriental hybrid Hellebores (Helleborus x hybridus ) which grow in the USDA zones 6-9.
The common name for Hellebores is Lenten Rose, because they bloom around the season of Lent. Hybridizers have latched onto Hellebores and specialized in creating a rainbow of colors, such as yellow, burgundy, spotted, black, pinks, and picotees. And the names!….Honeyhill Joy, Ivory Prince, Amber Gem, Berry Swirl, Cotton Candy, Black Diamond, Golden Lotus, Onyx Odyssey, Rose Quartz, Peppermint Ice, are just the tip of the iceberg. They sound like paint colors on a paint swatch.
The normally downward facing flowers have been bred to tilt outward instead of tilted to the ground so that you can easily see the flower show. Hybridizers have also turned their attention to the foliage, breeding for variegation, burgundy flushed stems, and silvery sheens.
All these efforts must have paid off as they are flooding the nurseries and the prices are top dollar. I have seen Hellebores for more than $50 a piece. They are getting as expensive as some hybridized peonies!
The culture of Hellebores is so easy that if you just plant them in a shady or partly shady spot, you’re done! I have some in sunny locations here in Maryland, but in more southern states, like Florida, plant them in full shade. In particular, Lenten Rose is a valuable player for dry shade, the nemesis of many gardeners. I use them as a ground cover under large trees where deer are prone to browse. For more shady ground cover choices, go to Made for the Shade.
Hellebores will set seed all around the plant and when the seedlings appear, dig them up and scatter them around. You will have large clumps in no time that last for years and years.
As I noted earlier, if you nip the older outer leaves in late winter, so the new stems and leaves can come up in the center. That is it for maintenance!
My advice for buying these beauties is to buy them in bloom so you know what you are getting as the colors can vary widely. Take a nursery shopping trip in late February and early March to get the best pick. For people who live near me in Central Maryland, go to Happy Hollow Nursery off of Padonia Rd in Cockeysville, at 410-252-4026. Tell them TheGardenDiaries sent you!
So, gardeners of the world-Are you listening? Tell all your friends and neighbors about this plant. It should not be a secret any longer.
13 Replies to “Hellebores-Every Gardener Should Have Some”
I agree with you that these beauties should not be kept a secret any longer!
I had them in my garden at my old house and I so miss seeing their early springtime show.
This old house that we bought does not have many interesting plants growing….but I am doing my best to fix that problem.
I am definitely going to check out our local nursery to see if they have any available now.
Thank you for such a great post!
Sue Bloodgood runs Happy Hollow and hers is a great specialty nursery for shade plants. Call first before going though to make sure she is open.
The quality and price of Sue’s plants can’t be beat- she is a small nursery with an amazing selection. She is known as “Hosta Sue” but don’t let the name fool you – hellebores, hostas, Lillies and potted annuals are abundant in varieties you can’t find elsewhere
These plants are invasive. They will crowd out anything and everything in your garden.
Karen, they aren’t invasive here in the Mid-Atlantic and I go to hundreds of gardens in my work of a landscape designer. They have will set seedlings around them which some of them grow, but since they are mostly planted as a ground cover, you want to fill in. I consider something invasive if it throws runners or seeds to distant points of a garden or landscape. These for me behave where I put them and gradually get larger clumps which I like. I can’t speak for other parts of the country.
Great article Claire. I’m going to start spreading more seeds around.
I agree that they are gorgeous and I definitely want more! I’ve had a handful of them for many years. Price has what has held me back from buying everyone I see but I’m hoping the prices drop a bit soon. They definitely seem to be showing up everywhere so don’t think they will be a secret much longer.
do we know the zone & which ( if any) are the tallest?
Zones 6-9. I find that most are the same size in height.