Hellebores, also commonly called Lenten roses, have become very popular with gardeners. I am not sure which comes first. Do gardeners start chatting amongst themselves about plants they love, and hybridizers create more to take advantage of a business opportunity? Or do plant breeders create a marketing buzz with new cultivars and gardeners can’t wait to grow the latest, greatest varieties? I guess it doesn’t matter. The result is the same. We have a larger selection of awesome plants, like hellebores, for our gardens.
Hybridizers have been very busy creating new cultivars and I couldn’t be happier. New varieties feature double flowers, bolder colors, and upward-facing flowers so gardeners don’t have to lay on their bellies to see them.
Originally botanically named Helleborus orientalis, but renamed Helleborus x hybridus, they help bulbs wake up the garden in April. Their cup-shaped flowers bloom in shades of white, pink, rose and green; some are spotted. They typically face downward, too shy to look up toward the sun. The blooms of hellebores fade so beautifully they look as if they are in continual bloom well into June.
They generally grow about 18 inches tall and wide. Their palmate, glossy, dark green foliage stays attractive through mild winters. Winters, like the one we have just had with little snow cover, ravage their semi-evergreen leaves. Cut them back before new growth begins.
Hellebores prefer a position in part to full shade. A few hours of filtered light are all they need. Once established in soil amended with organic matter, they are very drought tolerant. They cannot, however, survive in soggy soil.
Hellebores self-seed, creating colonies if allowed. In my gardens, they are permitted to self-seed to their hearts content. If you have a more disciplined style of garden design, remove flowering stems before they have a chance to release their seeds.
Plants can be propagated in spring by dividing mature clumps. Keep in mind, however, hellebores glow slowly and take years to settle back in after dividing. Instead, get more plants of hellebores for free by digging and moving seedlings.
To promote faster growth, feed hellebores with a balanced, slow-release fertilizer when new growth begins in early spring.
All parts of hellebores are poisonous, so deer and rabbits don’t mess with them, and they are rarely bothered by disease or attacked by insects.
Plant Helleborus x hybridus under deciduous trees with ferns, Corydallis lutea, ever-blooming bleeding hearts or other fine-textured, shade-loving perennials. Or partner the leathery, dark green foliage of hellebores with the variegated, chartreuse or blue leaves of hostas. The foliage combo is lovely. Hellebores are also beautiful in shady container gardens.
There are so many beautiful cultivars, it may be difficult to pick a favorite. Here are just a few.
Ivory Prince is a bit smaller than the species – just 12 to 18 inches tall. Burgundy-pink buds open to reveal creamy white, open flowers that face outwards, instead of down. Ivory Prince also grows more vigorously than some other types.
Royal Heritage is a collection of cultivars boasting nodding, cup-shaped flowers in a variety of shades including white, pink, green, purple, red and combinations of those colors. They grow 18 to 24 inches tall.
The Wedding Party series of hellebores, developed by Hans Hansen, is a group of beautiful, strong-growing cultivars with double flowers in rich colors. Blushing Bridesmaid shows off white flowers with raspberry veining and edges. It grows 18 to 24 inches tall.
Double Ellen Pink sports rose-colored flowers lightly sprinkled with dark reddish-purple spots toward their centers. It also grows 18-24 inches tall.
Don’t be surprised by the prices of Helleborus x hybridus and its cultivars on the benches at your local garden center. A price tag of $25 is not unusual for newer varieties. I think they are totally worth it. They are rugged and dependable, low-maintenance perennials that bloom for a long time and are worth every penny.
Do you grow hellebores? If you don’t, put them at the top of your wish list and add some to your shade garden this year. Garden with me!