Hellebores are excellent shade perennials for almost any garden. They have pretty glossy leaves and never overgrow their area or get in the way. Plus, they’re evergreen. And when there are slim pickings in late winter for foliage and color, hellebores reliably bloom in February, March, and April. How cool is that?
The most common types are Helleborus orientalis, helleborus niger, Helleborus x hybridus. They like shade and are hardy to Zone 5. Unlike some other perennials, hellebores 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. While hostas and brunneras are also attractive for their foliage, hellebores can’t be beat for graceful structure, evergreen foliage, and long-lasting flowers.
Here are some 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.
- They bloom during Lent, hence the common name of Lenten Rose.
If you’re new to growing hellebores, I suggest trying any of the Helleborus orientalis hybrids. They’re kind of common but they’re tough and virtually care free (outside of annual, late winter trimming). For beginner gardeners, 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.
I don’t know how hellebores push themselves up through the darkness and cold weather to bloom so early and elegantly every late winter, but I’m certainly grateful they do. And regardless of which kind you plant, you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you walk out the door and see flowers in the garden.