AND, finally there are hellebores! I assume these “Lenten Roses” knew when Lent occurs this year, and behaved accordingly. Many gardeners near me have had hellebores blooming for weeks, and as soon as I see their lovely posts the inspection of my plants begins. I’m certainly not an expert on hellebores, but I’ve grown them for about 25 years now, and know that I love them not only for their gorgeous, long-lasting and colorful blooms, but also for their tidy, dark-green, leathery, long-lasting foliage.
There are differing types of hellebores. Some called “Christmas Rose” (H. niger) bloom much earlier. Each year I vow to get some, but so far I haven’t. There are also more uncommon types. I’ve seen H. foetidus and H. corsicus in European gardens, but they aren’t as appealing to me because they only flower on second year stalks and then die back. Mine are all the “Lenten” (H. orientalis) types, and all but one grow on the Fairy Slope. They are lovely, but I wish I’d planted them in a more accessible location where one could get close enough to lift their heads to admire their blooms better. Attempting to trudge up the slope in muddy spring weather is more than I want to tackle. However, I’m sure the fairies are enjoying them fully. I planted them there, thinking that hellebores required shade. And then I visited a lovely private garden that had an entire hill devoted to hellebores, out in wide-open full sun! That was an eye-opening moment for me. It’s a good thing that they can tolerate sunshine (although not in blasting, desert-like heat) because after I “lost” a tree on the Fairy Slope (lost meaning that the non-gardener in the family cut it down after being told “if I want it cut down, I’ll do it!”…guess I should have been more explicit!) most of my hellebores were no longer shaded!
Hellebores also make good potted plants. I hadn’t realized that until visiting my daughter who lives in Germany years ago during the pre-Christmas season. Every grocery had dozens of pots of beautiful hellebores on display, and her local garden center had entire benches ready for customers. Apparently hellebores are considered a welcomed hostess gift, much like we use poinsettias over the holidays. Savvy folks put them in a cool spot overnight so they last much longer than if in a constantly heated area. I think since I have several now, I’ll pot some up this fall and force them for the holidays.
Another reason to love hellebores is that they are basically care-free. The only thing I do is cut off the old-browned leaves in mid-February so that when the buds and flowers begin to appear they can be viewed easily. Otherwise, they are on their own.
If you aren’t yet convinced, I also love hellebores because they self-seed generously, and they cross-pollinate easily so that wonderful surprises like the double white blooms shown at the top magically appear. When I sold the herb farm, I dug a few seedlings from the Fairy Garden to move to the new Fairy Slope at my home. Now I have several self-seeded plants, and am encouraging more.
Although many hellebores come in shades of burgundy, nearly black, green, or pink breeders have been working diligently to make a broader rainbow of colors. There are now flowers with broad bands of contrasting color along the petal edges or flowers with contrasting center “eyes.” There are singles and doubles, and spotted petals now in yellows and peach tones. THOSE are the ones I need! I had looked forward to visiting garden centers here in central Indiana to find some cultivars in those colors, but now that is impossible. So I’ve ordered “Sandy Shores” (a 3″ single peach) and “First Dance” (a 2 1/2″ double yellow with a very narrow maroon picotee edging) that should bring more variety to my seedlings. It will certainly be fun to see what surprises are in store in coming years!