Gardeners and Hellebores
I think that Hellebores are a well kept secret of garden enthusiasts. What other plant resists deer, neglect, likes shade-even deep shade, is evergreen, arranges beautifully, and is stunning? Did I mention that it blooms for 3 months of the year? That was not a misprint- 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. I have seen them for sale at Trader Joes and other unlikely places, so I think people are waking up to the value of this flower. Frost resistant and poisonous, deer turn up their nose at these beautiful plants.
So, why isn’t this plant in more gardens? Several reasons come to mind. First they are pricey. Retail prices can be around $15 to $30 a piece, though more common varieties are cheaper. Second, when most people are browsing the garden centers in the spring, 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 so important because it is an early nectar source for pollinators. There isn’t much blooming when they are in their glory 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. So, in this day and age of instant gratification, this can be a deal stopper for some people.
The common name for Hellebores is Lenten Rose, obviously because they bloom around the season of Lent. Hybridizers have latched onto Hellebores and created beautiful new flower colors, such as yellow, burgundy, spotted, and pictoees. The downward facing flowers have been tilted so instead they are upward or outward facing and are just begging to be admired. Hybridizers have also turned their attention to the leaves, breeding for variegation 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!
Helleborus foetidus is another member of the Hellebore family and one of my favorites. The common name is Stinking Hellebore or Dungwort! This plant needs a makeover! Nobody is going to buy a plant with such an unpleasant name. It really doesn’t stink, only when you crush it. So, don’t crush it! Just enjoy the chartreuse green flowers and finely cut foliage. I am fond of green flowers, so grow this one, but it won’t appeal to everyone.
The culture of Hellebores is so easy that if you just plant them in a shady or partly shady spot, you are done! 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. In late winter, nip the outer older leaves off so the new stems and leaves can come up in the center. That is it for maintenance!
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. If I were on a deserted island and could just have one plant? Hellebores or orchids, I can’t decide!!!