Hellebores are a great shade perennial for the Northwest garden. I love Helleborus orientalis, helleborus niger, Helleborus x hybridus. Any of the stemless species that grow straight from the ground are special. In fact, I really can’t think of a better shade perennial for a Seattle garden. They’re hardy, easy to grow, boast gorgeous glossy leaves. They don’t flop or trail or put on uneven new growth. They just expand in a loose mound, getting slightly wider and not much taller each year. Hostas are fun for their foliage, brunneras as well, but for a graceful structure, evergreen foliage, and long-lasting flowers, hellebores truly stand out. Most gardeners know they are one of the few perennials that bloom in late winter, which also makes them precious, but there are other fun facts you may not know about hellebores.
Lenten Roses That Aren’t Roses
- The colored “petals,” are actually sepals, little protective wrappers for the flowers inside.
- They’re easy to transplant. If you don’t like where yours is, you can easily lift the clump out of the ground and move it.
- Flowers can last up to three months. Have you experienced this? If you own a hellebore, you probably have.
- They’re poisonous so deer and other critters will avoid them.
- Your impulse to cut away the blighted or brown stalks as new growth emerges is the right way to trim them.
- The highest concentration of hellebores occurs in Bulgaria and the Balkan countries.
- Their flowers will never look up at you. They nod down. Like fuchsias, they’re stubborn like that. Still worth it.
If you’re new to growing them, I suggest trying any of the Helleborus orientalis hybrids. They’re common but they’re tough and virtually care free (outside of annual, late winter trimming). I don’t recommend Helleborus foetidus or argutifolius. These grow on stalks and can look odd, perhaps even homely, to a newbie gardener. Plus, the leaves are often a matte tone and toothed, making for a scratchy experience if you brush up against them.
Still, if you plant any hellebore at all, you’ll be pleasantly surprised next winter when you walk out the door and see flowers in the garden. They do bloom during Lent, hence that odd common name that combines Lent and their rose-like appearance. I don’t know how they push themselves up through the darkness and cold weather and our own neglect, but every year I’m grateful when they do.