Hellebores-Deer Resistant, Low Maintenance, Shade Loving Perennial

helleborus

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, deer turn up their nose at these beautiful plants.

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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.

 Double hellebore, not sure of the variety

Double hellebore, not sure of the variety

 

Nearly black Hellebore
Nearly black Hellebore
'Ivory Prince' is a beautiful variety with outward facing creamy flowers
‘Ivory Prince’ is a beautiful variety with outward facing creamy flowers

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.

One of my honeybees visiting a hellebore
One of my honeybees visiting a hellebore

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

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Float your blooms in a bowl and they last for a couple of weeks

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.

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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.

'Wedding Party' has beautiful double flowers
‘Wedding Party’ has beautiful double flowers

The most popular varieties are the Oriental hybrid hellebores (Helleborus x hybridus ) which grow in the USDA zones 6-9.

Lenten Rose

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.

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The downward facing flowers have been bred to tilt outward instead of downward facing 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!

This hellebore has variegated foliage
This hellebore has variegated foliage

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Culture

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.

A flock of Hellebores!
A flock of Hellebores!

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.

Seedlings surround the mother plant
Seedlings surround the mother plant

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!

A large clump of Hellebores in late February that needs to be trimmed
A large clump of Hellebores in late February that needs to be trimmed
Clump transformed and showing flowers better once trimmed
Same clump transformed and displaying flowers better once trimmed

 

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!

Hellebores covering a bank

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.

Floral Winter Palette

Five Favorites for the Winter Garden

A Witch Hazel in full flower in winter
A Witch Hazel in full flower in winter

Most people don’t realize that you can have a winter blooming garden in the depths of January and February in large areas of the U.S. I live in the mid-Atlantic region and we can get some heavy snow falls, and days where the temperature dips below freezing for a good part of the winter, but still it is possible to see something blooming 365 days a year. And that is my goal – to have something blooming in my garden every day. The hardest time of year is early January but as the winter progresses, I notice more and more plants are blooming.  Floral sources helps my bees to find some nectar and keep them alive over the winter, plus gives me a lift when I see blooms unfurl throughout the winter.

Here are 5 reliable winter bloomers:

Witch Hazel

Witch Hazel or Hamamelis is a small tree or large deciduous shrub that has coarse foliage during the growing season and is really unremarkable looking. But once the leaves fall and winter sets in, you can see the swelling flower buds and as winter is fading away but still very much around – late February for me – the Witch Hazels start to bloom. The most common color is yellow, but oranges and copper reds are available. Doing well in woodland conditions of high shade, you can also site Witch Hazels in sun and they will thrive. It is an easy plant to espalier or grow flat against a wall or house.

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Jelena Witch Hazel

Winter Aconite

One of my honeybee’s favorites. These start opening in mid to late January and when a warm day hits, they are fully open and jumping with bees. Grown from a tuber planted in the fall, they will steadily increase from year to year by throwing off seeds. Only about 6 inches high, the flower has a Kelly green ruff of foliage framing the petals.  Aconites are an ephemeral, so will disappear when the weather warms up. Transplant them when green and actively growing to spread them around.

English: Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) Wi...
English: Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) Winter aconite with the flowers open as the sun had been out shortly before this photograph was taken. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 Mahonia

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Mahonia bealei is an unusual plant that you either hate or love. It is a mid-sized shrub with large leathery prickly leaves that looks like a holly on steroids! The flowers open gradually in February, sometimes earlier, and set a blue-black berry that birds love to eat. A tough deer resistant plant, it is under-utilized in the landscape.  Mahonia likes shady, difficult conditions, so is a valuable plant to know.

Blue black berries of Mahonia
Blue black berries of Mahonia

Camellia

Camellias are considered a southern plant and are very successfully grown in Maryland. It is an evergreen glossy-leaved shrub that blooms in the dead of winter. The flowers look like a flattened rose and come in an array of beautiful colors and swirls. Camellias prefer shade and can live under large trees. There are Camellias that bloom in the fall and ones that bloom in the winter. In the south, they can get quite large, over 2o feet tall, but here in Maryland, they tend to be a lot smaller.  But I have seen some large ones here when they are growing in a good protected spot.

Camellias
Camellias

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Hellebores

No garden is complete without Hellebores or Lenten Roses. A great ground cover for the shade, hybridizers have gotten hold of this plant and have developed some amazing colors, such as dark burgundy or black or yellow. I love the lime green Hellebore foetidus, or Stinking Hellebore. The leaves smell unpleasant when crushed but I have yet to crush them to find out! I am a sucker for green flowers and try to grow as many as I can. Hellebores like woodland conditions- humusy, rich soil, in dappled shade. They are valuable because they are evergreen, long-lasting, and deer avoid them as they are highly poisonous. I have noticed that Hellebores have become a popular holiday house plant like a poinsettia.

Stinking Hellebore
Stinking Hellebore
A nice clump of Hellebores
A nice clump of Hellebores
Hellebore
Hellebore (Photo credit: Phil @ Delfryn Design)
Array of colors courtesy Pine Knot farms
Array of colors courtesy Pine Knot farms