Monday, March 9, 2015

Confessions of a Hellebore Addict, Part I

This is my first blog entry in Garden Musings.  When I told my husband, Jack, I was writing about hellebores, he said "Imagine that!" He's well aware that hellebores are among my favorite plants.  They have so much going for them:  easy to grow, beautiful evergreen foliage, nice blooms when little else is blooming, and a long bloom time. I mean, how can you not love looking out your window in late December and seeing this little beauty?

Here's a closer look at the flower, which emerges a snowy white and ages to pink.

This particular hellebore (Helleborus x ballardiae 'Cinnamon Snow') started blooming in November, was in full glory in December and early January, and aged gracefully over this cold, icy winter. The picture below was taken on March 2, and, while not the beautiful plant it once was, it still improves the winter garden.

There are a number of species of hellebores, but two of the most common are Helleborus orientalis (called 'Lenten Rose' because they tend to bloom mid- or late-winter about the time of Lent) and Helleborus niger (called the Christmas rose because they usually are in bloom in December).  You'll also find a huge number of hybrids. In fact, Tony Avent of Plants Delights Nursery says that most of the hellebores grown today are actually interspecific garden hybrids. He has an informative article on his website if you are interested in knowing more about the types of hellebores and their characteristics.  Click to go to the article.

I have been surprised by the number of people I talk with who have never heard of hellebores. Maybe that's because big box stores tend to carry plants when they are in bloom, and hellebores bloom in winter when most of us are not in the garden center. Or maybe when you think of hellebores, you think of the pass-along hellebore, which tends to be pale pink or white with single, downward-facing, nondescript flowers. But many of the hellebores sold today are so different that you might not even recognize them as hellebores. 
Some have leathery variegated foliage. Some have large, upward-facing flowers. Some have double flowers or freckled flowers. And the flowers come in a rainbow of colors.  Click here for a sample. These are definitely not your mother's hellebores!  (This discussion of variety reminds me how incomplete my own collection is!)

Over the next several posts, I'll share the (mostly) highs and (occasional) lows of my love affair with hellebores and show you more of my favorite specimens from our garden.  I'll also talk about my experience in growing them.  But a word of caution: if you have an plant-addictive personality (in particular, if you are a hostaholic with a shady garden), you may be in for trouble . . . . I've already told Jack that we must have some yellows!

Deb Edwards TEMG '12

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