By Marianne Binetti
Hellebores are the garden’s winter jewels, flowering as early as December, with some varieties still adding color as late as May. These precious gems resist slugs, deer, and drought, and thrive under the shade of trees and shrubs. Every Northwest gardener should find a spot for a hellebore. You’ll be thankful each winter when you collect the open petals and float them outdoors in a birdbath; or indoors, where they remind me of miniature water lilies.
In early winter take the time to remove the old foliage from your hellebore plants so you can better see the emerging stems and flowers. This winter pruning helps keep your hellebores disease free because it disposes of leaves with black spots. Note the black spots on the bottom right leaves of this hellebore.
I grow my hellebores close to the house so I can enjoy them from indoors on cold days. They also combine well with early flowering bulbs, such as snowdrops, in woodland gardens under trees, at the foot of large rhododendrons, and beneath maples. Notice how the old foliage has been clipped off of this ‘Ivory Prince’ hellebore, flowering next to snowdrop bulbs.
You can find flowering hellebore plants for sale as gift plants around the holidays, often sold inside your local Lowe’s store (not outdoors in the nursery). Gift hellebores may come with their pots wrapped in red foil for holiday decorating. To prolong the blooms, be sure to move the blooming plants outside after a few weeks.
I transplant my gift hellebores into porch pots once the Christmas tree comes down. In this blue pot I also added some bare branches cut from my contorted filbert. The long bloom time welcomes visitors, as this pot sits near the front door. In May I transplant the hellebore into the garden and replant with summer annuals.
Hellebores are happy in container gardens for several years, but for the happiest hellebores, allow them to spread their thick roots deep into the soil of your garden.
Tip: When planting a hellebore in the ground, the most important tip is to dig a very wide hole, three times as wide as the plant. Make the planting hole at least 8 inches deep. The hellebore needs to be set at the same depth in which it grew, but surround the roots with loose, well-draining soil that contains some organic matter. This encourages the fleshy roots to spread out quickly. It is the deep root system that makes these perennials resist drought and moles.
Collect your own jewel box of winter blooms with hellebores in a range of colors, from the compact and long-blooming white ‘Ivory Prince’ to the cool pink of ‘Pink Frost’; or add extra bling with showy, double-flowering varieties. There are blooms of jade green, garnet red, and topaz gold, and hellebores with splashes of pearl white on the foliage or silver veins in the leaves. I like to display my winter jewels under glass, where the damp moss under the dome of this cake stand keeps the humidity high and preserves the cut blossoms.
Bedazzle your own winter garden—drape the landscape with heavenly hellebores.