Everything You Need to Know About Hellebores
The Glory of Hellebores
Dreary landscapes come alive when pure white blossoms of the Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) and its colorful cousins open to celebrate the holidays. These gently nodding beauties, which last for months, are members of the buttercup family and native to the mountains of Eastern Europe. Just in time for Valentine's Day, look for another more vibrant wave of easy-to-grow hellebores, Lenten roses (H. x hybridus), in hues ranging from pale pink to deep purple with veins, speckles, or darker edges popping against shiny green leaves.
Planting a patch of hellebores in your garden or adding a pot to your porch is a simple, sophisticated, and inexpensive way to dress up any yard. These flowers are hardy self-seeders that spread quickly. Dick Tyler, who owns Pine Knot Farms in Clarksville, Virginia, produces over 300,000 each year. He advises that gardeners not get too hung up on colors. "All hellebores are beautiful and provide year-round greenery and texture," he says. "And best of all, they emerge just when we need a lift before the rest of the garden awakens."
Aside from the Christmas rose and Lenten rose selections, he also recommends an herbaceous charmer, the bear's-foot hellebore (H. foetidus), which blooms in late winter. Tyler's customers often prefer to call it by its other well-known name, "the stinking hellebore," but he is quick to defend it. "This is a misnomer. The plant actually has a sweet, musky fragrance," he says. Certain hellebore selections, like "HGC Pink Frost," "Confetti Cake," and "Spanish Flare," look best floating in a bowl, but nearly all make nice cut flowers.
Simple Tips for Growing Hellebores
Timing is Everything
Beginners should start with transplants (which are available from garden centers) in the spring. Plant them in areas with good drainage in light to dappled shade or morning sun with shelter from hot afternoon rays. If grown from seed, they can take three to four years to bloom and may differ in color from their parents.
Space 18 to 24 inches apart to allow room for them to spread. Plant odd-numbered groupings beneath spring-flowering trees and shrubs, or place them en masse along slopes to make a big statement. Dark mulch will help their foliage to stand out.
Pretty in Pots
Hellebores have deep roots and do best in porous containers that are wider at the top than the bottom. This makes it easy to remove them when it's time to repot. Plant them with snowdrops, crocus, epimediums, muscari, and violas.
Mixed colors with double and anemone blooms; grows 12"-18" tall and 15" wide
Double, cupped blooms with light yellow centers; grows 12"-15" tall and 24" wide
"Spring Promise Conny"
Single, cupped, white blooms with chartreuse centers; grows 12"-14" tall and 24" wide
Double, saucer-shaped, soft pink blooms up to 3" across; grows 12"-14" tall and 24" wide
"Mrs. Betty Ranicar"
Royal Heritage Strain
Single blooms of mixed colors; grows 18"-24" tall and 24"-36" wide
"Pine Knot Double Pink"
Double, light-to-dark pink blooms; grows 16" tall and 24" wide
Single, bright yellow blossoms with flecks of red; grows 12" tall and 12" wide
Single, cupped, maroon blooms; grows 24" tall and 24" wide