Hellebores are wonderful garden plants, yet they remain fairly uncommon in perennial gardens. When you consider their evergreen nature, ease of culture and beautiful late winter blooms it is hard to imagine why they have taken so long to catch on. The tide is turning for these shade loving plants. In fact the perennial plant association chose Hellebore as the perennial plant of the year in 2005.
Over the last decade or so Hellebore breeders have created and introduced many new cultivars in a range of colors and combinations, many with contrasting spots of color in the flower centers. Improvements in plant form have also produced upward facing blooms, better foliage, and several double flowered types. The bloom color ranges from green to white to rose to burgundy, with some varieties approaching black. There are even some yellow varieties making their way into catalogs and shops.
The most popular hellebores are the oriental hybrids, which are known as Lenten roses because they traditionally bloom around the beginning of lent. Hellebores are easily grown, thrive in partial shade, and can even handle dry shade situations. The plants prefer soils high in organic matter but will tolerate less than ideal conditions. They resent wet feet. Most grow about two feet tall and have glossy evergreen foliage. The real selling point is their miraculous late winter bloom, which typically begins in February here in Kentucky. You may want to trim some of the winter battered foliage to showcase the emerging flowers.
Much like peonies, hellebores can take a few years to reach their full potential. But a gardener’s patience is well rewarded and a mature clump of hellebores in full bloom is a spectacle you won’t soon forget.
Although these beauties were once hard to find in nurseries, you can now find them offered for sale and with a little investigating, you can find many unique colors and varieties. If you aren’t familiar with hellebores, try a few in your garden. If you are fortunate enough to have grown them for years look into the newer varieties available today, I think you will be pleasantly surprised at the offerings.
Submitted by Jamie Dockery, Agent for Horticulture, Fayette County Cooperative Extension Service