The Hellebores In March

What’s better than waiting out the end of the Michigan winter is a road trip to Pine Knot Farms to pick up a collection of hellebores. After some discussion with Dick Tyler, I placed an order, and our David drove our sprinter there to pick them up.  Pine Knot Farms has been breeding hellebores for a good many years. Their strains of helleborus hybridus are incredibly vigorous, strong blooming, and hardy in our zone.  The book written by Judith and Dick Tyler, entitled “Hellebores: A Comprehensive Guide”, was and still is a comprehensive and succinct description of the genus Helleborus. It is an invaluable reference work, and I reach for it whenever I have a question about hellebores.

helleborus "Pine Knot Select"From Wikipedia, “Commonly known as hellebores, the Eurasian genus Helleborus consists of approximately 20 species of herbaceous or evergreen perennial flowering plants in the family Ranunculaceae, within which it gave its name to the tribe of Helleboreae”.  Ha. I find the book by the Tyler’s to be considerably more engaging, and a lot more detailed.  I am happy to say that Dick Tyler took the time and effort to give David a comprehensive tour of his nursery. If you are not near enough to Detroit Garden Works to shop his plants, he does ship. This is the last weekend of his hellebore festival, but he grows many thousands of plants. Just one of the many in our collection is pictured above in a photograph of Rob’s. For further information, check out their website.  Pine Knot Farms hellebores

Though we purchase hellebores from a number of different growers from all over the US, I was especially interested in Dick Tyler’s plants for a good reason.  Many of his strains of hellebores have helleborus hybridus as a prominent parent. Helleborus hybridus is in and of itself a plant of complex heritage. This is a major factor in its hardiness. They  are commonly known as Lenten roses, which means they are spring blooming. The blooming shoots of my hellebores emerge from the ground in late March, and will begin to flower in April.  As our spring weather is usually very cool, they are gloriously in bloom for quite some time. The flower itself is quite inconspicuous..  What appear to be petals are actually a modified calyx. Those petal-like structures will eventually turn green, and will persist on the plants for months.

The Christmas rose, or helleborus niger, is a winter blooming perennial.  Winter blooming plants do quite well in mild climates, but have a tough go in Michigan. There are a number of clones which have some measure of parentage from helleborus niger that are able to survive our harsh winter and unpredictable early spring. We are able to buy the hellebore hybrid “Joseph Lemper” in full bloom in December.  Customers who have kept them over the winter and planted them out in the spring report that the bloom stalks will come very early in the spring, but they do manage endure our early spring night temperatures. I prefer helleborus hybridus cultivars for my Michigan garden. I do have some intergeneric hellebore varieties whose bloom stalks began to grow several weeks ago. I have my fingers crossed that they will survive the forecast overnight low tonight of 12 degrees. For this reason, I do not cut off the tattered remains of last years foliage until it appears we will have night temperatures that are more moderate. That old foliage is like a blanket.

So what is one to do with one of our hellebores in full bloom when our night temperatures are so cold?  They are actually quite obliging about a place indoors for a few weeks.  We like to pot them up in a little something that is decorative. The green or black plastic pot that they are grown in will do, but why make do at the end of winter?  Rob potted this hellebore in a basket, and topped it off with some mood moss.  To follow are more pictures of his miniature spring gardens. If you are able to stop in and see them in person, I promise you will be enchanted.

hellebores in pots

See what I mean?



The Hellebore Festival

helleborus MerlinHellebores are the mainstay of the early spring garden in my zone. The plants themselves feature leathery foliage that may persist throughout a mild winter.  The flowers come first, on leafless stalks that emerge from the ground in late March and early April.  Once the flowers have matured, the new leaves sprout.  They range in height from 15″ to 20″, and appreciate a semi shady location in humus rich and friable soil.

helleborus corsicus IcebreakerI grow one group of hellebores in full sun, but I make sure they have sufficient water. Some clumps are going on 15 years old, and show no signs of any loss of vigor. The summer foliage is lush and glossy.  Deer don’t touch them. What appears to be the petals are actually modified leaves.  The small tubular lime green structures surrounding the center in the above picture are the actual flowers.  Those modified leaves will persist on the plant long into the summer.  This give the impression of a very long bloom time.

hellebore festivalMost hellebores are very willing to set seed. I see many seedlings surrounding my large plants this spring.  Given 3 or 4 years, they will grow on to blooming size. Some of the newer varieties of hellebores feature up or side facing flowers.  Older cultivars of helleborus orientalis feature nodding flowers.  Planting them at the top of a slope or wall will provide a better look at the flowers.  If you choose to cut them, do sear the bottom of the stem in boiling water before you condition them. They will last an amazingly long time floating in a bowl of water.

helleborus lividus Pink MarbleNew to us this year is helleborus lividus “Pink Marble”. The hellebore is shorter and more compact than most.  It grows about a foot tall, and 18″ wide.  The leaves have delicate white veins.  As this hellebore is a little more tender than most, I would plant it with some protection from winds.  A layer of leaves after the ground freezes will help protect it.

helleborus Frilly KittyFrilly Kitty features pink fully double flowers. Hellebore breeding has produced flowers in an astonishing range of colors and shapes.  It remains to be seem which will survive the test of time. Hellebores grown from seed will all be different. A hellebore selected for its flower color or vigor will be reproduced via tissue culture, which insures that all of the characteristics of the parent is repeated in the progeny.

helleborus ConnieHelleborus Spring Promise “Conny” is a white flowered hellebore with maroon spots.  The flowers are stunning.  I am sure this accounts for the fact that we are already sold out of this cultivar. It seems to be a fairly strong grower in my garden.  One clump that is year years old has a number of blooms this year.

helleborus SallySally is another member of the Spring Promise series. Spring Promise is a helleborus orientalis type, and bloom from late February into April.  They come in a wide range of forms and colors.  Sally has lovely greenish yellow flowers atop a very strong growing plant.

Helleborus IcebreakerHelleborus Icebreaker is a personal favorite.  The white flowers mature to a most beautiful shade of green.  Interested further in the green flowered types?  I wrote about them here:  green flowered hellebores  If you are not able to get by the shop today, don’t worry.  We have a great supply of many different cultivars. The best part of this year’s festival?  Mild March weather is making it possible to plant them in the ground  straight away.