Hurrah for Hellebores!

I’m normally doing my hellebore dance in late February or March, when the jewel-tone buds of these precious perennials emerge from the wintery ground.  This year in the Northeast the spring weather has just arrived, so my happy dance is just beginning!  In early April, I began to see these wonderful gems come to life in my garden. 

I remember first learning about hellebores from fellow Hardy Plant Society member and shade plant lover, Carolyn Walker.  After planting hellebores the previous fall, I mentioned to Carolyn that I thought the flowers were pretty and that the deer resistance was fabulous, but I wasn’t crazy about the ratty looking leaves at the end of winter.  That’s when I learned that you were supposed to cut off the old leaves, providing room for the buds and eventual flowers to steal the show, and for shiny new leaves to emerge.  Oops.  Lesson learned!

Hellebore blooms emerge after the tattered foliage has been cut away
Since becoming educated on how to properly care for hellebores, I am now their greatest fan.  Some people find the nodding flowers of most Helleborus orientalis to be disappointing, because their blooms face down. But like David Culp, hellebore hybridizer extraordinaire, I enjoy holding the buds between my fingers, getting down on the ground and admiring them up close. I particularly like the self-seeding varieties as I have a large shade garden, which is always in need of filler plants, and I love the menagerie of color.  If you aren’t a fan of self-seeders, you can still be a hellebore lover.  Try the gold collection, which is made up of typically sterile plants. 
Hellebores with downward facing blooms; still beautiful in my opinion
Showing off the blooms
Gold Collection – ‘Pink Frost’
Another favorite of mine is the Helleborus foetidis, which gets a bad rap as “stinking hellebore,” because the leaves can emit an unpleasant odor when crushed.  I say don’t crush them, just plant them, admire them and let them reproduce at will!  The muted yellow-green flowers and deeply-cut foliage add a wonderful texture to the woodland garden.  
Helleborus foetidis
I hope I have inspired you to put some hellebores in your shade or part shade garden. Year after year, they will provide wonderful color and interest to the garden.  As winter is ending and we are desperate to see signs of life in the landscape, hellebores will appear.  In addition, they are evergreen, deer resistant, long-lasting and self-sowing (if you want).  What more could you ask for?  So get out there and do the hellebore happy dance! 


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