Hello again and welcome to the last of my series of posts on hellebores!
In the previous post, I talked mostly about the more familiar species of hellebore, orientalis. Often, people who are familiar only with this type of hellebore are surprised by the variety in the newer plants.
When Jack and I lived in Arlington, Virginia, (we moved to Tennessee in 2011), we had a group of Helleborus x hybridus 'Walhelivor' (commonly known as 'Ivory Prince') in our front garden near the sidewalk. One spring morning the doorbell rang and I opened the door to a stranger who wanted to know what kind of plants they were. When I told her they were hellebores, she said skeptically, "I've grown hellebores but I never had any that looked like that." Look at this and you'll see why she felt that way. (Yes, all those flowers are on a single plant!)
The plant in the picture (taken at the end of February) is not 'Ivory Prince' (I don't have a good picture to share with you) but rather 'Pink Frost', a similar plant. Both are Helleborus niger hybrids, and if they were not in bloom, I think you would have a lot of difficulty in recognizing that they are different varieties. Both show pink buds, as the undersides of the buds are pink on both plants. But 'Pink Frost' opens to reveal a pink flower that fades to a deeper pink, while 'Ivory Prince' opens white and fades to green. Here is a link to a picture of 'Ivory Prince.'
What I like about these hybrids is that the flowers are more upward facing and held in a group, like a bouquet. I also like that the foliage is more substantial and leathery-looking. When not in bloom, 'Ivory Prince' and 'Pink Frost' take on the appearance of an attractive dwarf shrub. Also, as you can see from the picture above, the foliage seems to hold up better to winter weather compared with orientalis varieties. That being said, the foliage does eventually look tired and tattered and require a little tidying up. If you do a web search on "helleborus niger hybrids," you'll find others with a slightly different look.
As much as I like the niger hybrids, I have to admit that I find them harder to get established compared with the orientalis I've grown. I've had to replace several nigers that did not survive the first year. I think the key to success is the right amount of water and good drainage. I had read that they need to be kept well-watered until they are established, and it may be that I over-watered. But once established, they seem to be tough plants.
Hellebores are considered to be shade plants in our area but I've found them to fairly sun tolerant as long as they don't get much hot afternoon sun. On the other hand, they are also happy in those areas of our garden that get almost no direct sun.
Those you who are plagued by deer will be happy to hear that deer do not eat hellebores. (In fact, I've heard of people planting them as a barrier around plants that deer like to eat, but I don't know how well this worked!) That is not entirely true of aphids, however. I have not had a problem with aphids on hellebores in our Tennesee garden but did have some in our Virginia garden. So I keep a watchful eye for them.
All things considered, if I had to choose only one type of plant for our garden, hellebores might be my choice. If you are considering adding some to your own garden, get to the nursery soon so you can see them in bloom!
Deb Edwards, TMG '12