Hellebore Hardy

hellebore hardy (1)Would that every plant in my garden could be hellebore hardy. Hellebore hardy? Hellebore hardy is that state of plant being which is as tough as nails, bud and bloom hardy, every day in hostile weather, as in every crappy spring wild card day hardy. We have had crazy cold and blustery weather the first 12 days of April. As in daytime highs of 28 degrees, and some night time lows at 19 degrees.  If it were January, or February, or even the first part of March, these temperatures would not bother anything in my garden.  At that time, every plant is dormant, and oblivious to the day to day changes in temperature. This kind of cold in the spring can damage emerging flowers and leaves. Our espaliered fruit trees are very close to blooming.  I am hoping they hold off for a week, as below freezing temperatures can easily damage or wipe out those flowers. The flowering stalks of my hellebores emerged from the ground a month ago. The have been growing steadily, in spite of a lengthy bout of really cold and windy weather.

hellebore hardy (3)The flowering stalks of the hellebores usually come out of the ground in my zone in mid March. They are programmed to come out of the ground, fighting. How they fight to bloom enchants me. March and April are politely known as transitional months in Michigan.  As in 2.5 parts winter dueling fiercely with .5 parts of spring.  Hellebores bloom in spite of that conflict-  I admire that cheekiness about them. Their ability to withstand cold, snow, ice, freezing rain and wind when they have broken dormancy and begun to grow is remarkable.  All the more extraordinary is their ability to shrug off this hostile weather while in full bloom. This picture was taken at the end of the day on April 10. I was worried that every flower would be at least damaged, if not obliterated by morning.

hellebore hardy (2)It was not an idle worry. My white flowered magnolia stellata is full of white flowers gone to brown mush.  The early flowering magnolias are not hellebore hardy. Their flowering can be laid low and obliterated by cold April weather.  I don’t love them less for this.  I just know that a tumultuous spring has its disappointments, and its survivors. My stellata blooms well 2 out of 5 years.

hellebore hardy (8)The hellebores are survivors.  They do not need any help from me if the beginning of spring is deadly cold. They never ask for much of anything, actually. As for April 11, my hellebores revived. Once the snow and ice melted, and the air temperatures warmed up, my hellebores got back to the business of blooming. My old clumps are sensational this year.

hellebore hardy (12)This big clump, one of many of the old Royal Heritage strain that I grow, is unfazed by inclement weather.

hellebore hardy (5)It is hard to believe that these flowers survived night temperatures ranging from 19 to 27 degrees, over a period of almost 2 weeks.

hellebore hardy (6)Hellebore flowers are big and showy.  What is just as showy is how they handle the late winter weather. Showier still is that these plants are still growing strong, despite their age.  Most of my original group was planted well over a decade ago. I do not often see the Royal Heritage strain offered for sale – pity that.

hellebore hardy (9)To follow are some pictures of my hellebores – both old and new.  I appreciate every one of them, especially given that most of the rest of the garden is still biding its time, hoping for a clearer sign that spring is here.

hellebore hardy (7)Royal heritage strain

hellebore hardy (17)Conny is a newer variety.  This is its 3rd spring.

hellebore hardy (10)Royal Heritage strain

hellebore hardy (11)Royal heritage strain

hellebore hardy (14)Royal Heritage strain

hellebore hardy (18)This spotted double is a newer variety whose name I cannot remember. Lovely, and sparse.

hellebore hardy (16)My newest group of more recently bred hellebore hybrids are gawky and thin. I am hoping to see them put on some weight this year. It is too soon to determine whether they will form big and persistent clumps. The Royal Heritage Mix may not have the interesting shapes and the clearer colors as the newest varieties that are available, but they are reliable. Should you have an interest in this discussion regarding hellebores persistence, I would invite you to read an essay from the well known English gardener and garden writer, Noel Kingbury. His column is a regular read for me. He worries that the new cultivars are not as vigorous as the old fashioned varieties.  His life is a world away from mine, but his commentary on the garden is of interest to me.   http://noels-garden.blogspot.com/2016/02/hellebore-troubles.html

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.


Awash In Hellebores

helleborus.jpgI am embarrassed to complain, given what the people in Boston have endured this winter, but I will say it.  We have had a long tough winter. We had the better part of Boston’s snow last year. This year, no heart or record breaking snow, but plenty of snow nonetheless. The snow I could plow through, and shrug off. The tough part was an interminable run of very cold weather, lots of it below zero. Dressing for a trip outdoors was an event the likes of which was almost intolerable. Boots, gloves, coat, hat, and lots of layers in between. All of this piling on took lots of time. That effort did not come to much good-the cold was bone chilling.  No one took the arctic winter poorer than the corgis. Every day they would plead with me to change the channel. They were bored and irritable. It was a daily thing, wanting to be let out every possible door to the outside-in hopes one would reveal habitable weather.  The spring in Michigan does not come easy or in an orderly fashion. Mother nature takes her time, deciding when the season will change from winter to spring. We have been made to wait.

detroit garden works helleboresWe feel better about the weather, having worked to introduce our own indoor version of spring. In March, we take delivery of over 1000 hellebores from growers all over the US and Canada. We invite gardeners in our area to come, browse and review our collection, and speak for them. We mean to offer gardeners a respite the winter, with our hellebore festival. It takes a few days, but our greenhouse space is starting to look like and smell  like a garden. Our March weather seems to be moderating-we have hope we are on a track to spring.  But if the spring outdoors is practically still weeks off,  we have a version of spring in our greenhouse. Should the spring be a few weeks off, the hellebores are content to reside in  sunny window until the ground outside can be worked.hellebores_double_pink_strain__84306Hellebores are a hardy perennial in our zone. Many of them are hardy in zone 4; most of them are eminently hardy in zone 5.  I treasure them, as they are the first perennial to bloom in my garden in April.  Hellebore foliage is large, and will persist long past the fall and into the winter. In warmer zones, the foliage is evergreen. The Orientalis hybrids throw their bloom stalks very early in the spring, arising out of the declining foliage from the previous season. The new foliage which is to come after the blooming is lush and substantive. They are tolerant of a wide range of conditions in the garden. I grow them in full sun, but I water them when they need it.  They are equally as happy in a lightly shaded location. They can live and increase in a garden for many years, without any need for division. Deer do not touch them. The flowers are surprisingly large, and quite beautiful.

detroit garden works helleboresThe flowers of the hellebores my Mom grew in her garden 50 years ago did not look like these. The blooms were nodding-down facing. To enjoy her bell shaped flowers required getting down on the ground to look up into their faces. She would cut them, and put them in a vase in the kitchen window.  Her favorites were the white and green flowered hellebores, as the pink cultivars were a muddy not so appealing pink.  It took years to grow on a hellebore to a decent size, as they were only available as young starts.  There was always lots more foliage than flowers. Nonetheless, she loved the look of them in her shade/wildflower garden.  Their foliage would last the entire summer and beyond, unlike the spring bulbs and ephemeral wildflowers she cultivated. The hellebore world has changed dramatically since then.

pink flowering helleboresThis group of plants have been the subject of intense breeding all over the globe. A lot of attention has been devoted to breeding plants who flowers are out and up facing. Some breeders have produced strains of hellebores with double flowers, or unusual coloration. Marietta and Ernie O’Byrne, who own Northwest Garden Nurseries, have bred some stunning strains of hellebores.  The same can be said for Judith and Dick Tyler who own and operate Pine Knot Farms. These names are just two of a long list of hellebore enthusiasts who breed and sell plants in Belgium, Germany, England, Japan, the US and Canada.

detroit gardenworks helleboresMost of the plants in the greenhouse are hybrids of helleboris Orientalis. Helleborus Orientalis is not a species of hellebore, strictly speaking. It is a plant which is an interspecific cross from a number of different species hellebores-the O’Byrnes think maybe more than 16 species have a part in what is properly known as helleborus x hybridus. They do not come true from seed, so many of these named varieties are referred to as such and such “strain” of hellebore.  Given that the plants may take 3 years to flower, many breeders sell their young plants with pictures that show the possible color range. The advent of tissue culture has made it possible to clone specific plants, and make them available to interested gardeners.  My discussion of the history and science is quite limited-for a detailed look at hellebores, do visit the website of Plant Delights Nursery. Some of the hellebores we have came from a trip Rob made there a few weeks ago.  Tony Advent does a terrific job making great garden plants available to serious gardeners.  He also does a great job of providing an overview of the history and proper culture of the plants he sells.


dscn1230The hybridizing of hellebores to produce stronger growing and beautifully flowered hellebore cultivars has been a shot heard round the world. Today, hybridizers in Europe, Canada, Japan and the US have created cultivars featuring study and garden worthy plants, and breathtaking flowers. The vast majority of the plants we have available now are cultivars that have a proven performance record. And we feature large sized plants that are old enough to produce a good crop of flowers from the start. But we also have a limited number of one of a kind plants that would appeal to a hellebore collector.

detroit garden works helleboresI did buy a collection of named hellebores last February from a nursery in British Columbia, Canada, named Fraser’s Thimble Farms.  They ship small plants to the US, bare root. I did have to pot them up, and baby them along in the window sill of my drawing studio until they took hold. I finally planted the entire lot of them in a patch in my garden that used to be occupied by some not so wonderful looking yews. Just yesterday I could see that the snow had melted, and all of those small plants look like they survived our winter. I am not expecting all of them to bloom this spring, but I have hopes.

h 5We do have gardeners come in who are not familiar with hellebores. This is not so surprising. Some nurseries are reluctant to carry plants that take 3 years to flower from seed, or are already out of bloom in May.  The good news for gardeners is what appears to be the flower is actually a modified calyx, or petal like structures that surround the actual flower. The flower is in the center, and these true petals will drop when the flowering period is over. But the calyx persist on the plants for months, giving the appearance of a really long bloom time. Still, I try to site hellebores in spots that make them easy to view in early spring.

Detroit Garden Works hellebores March 2015 (16)Hellebores also make great container plants.  Everything we ordered for our collection is in, and our Hellebore festival is slated for Friday March 20 through Sunday March 22. Can you come ahead? Of course.

Helleborus Festivalis


Detroit Garden Works plans to hold its first ever spring festival the weekend of March 21, 22, and 23.   We are calling the event the Helleborus Festivalis, in celebration of one of our most favorite spring flowering perennials, the hellebore.  Rob has spent weeks traveling to and ordering from nurseries all over the US and Canada, in order for us to have a collection available that will enchant both gardeners unfamiliar with hellebores, and long time serious collectors.  I have had lots of emails requesting more information on exactly what plants we have available, and in what sizes.  This post is some about our love for hellebores, and more about the specifics.  600 hellebores have been delivered over the past 2 weeks-to follow is a the Helleborus Festivalis preview.  Helleborus Onyx Odyssey, pictured above, is certainly one of the most striking varieties we have been able to obtain.

Helleborus-Black-Odyssey.jpgThis very dark and inky wine red double hellebore was bred by Marietta O’Byrne in Eugene, Oregon, and and introduced into commerce in 2008.  We have 20 in bloom 1 gallon size stocky plants available.  This cultivar is most definitely not the helleborus orientalis my Mom grew.  The O’Byrne’s breeding program has turned over the hellebore world.

helleborus-orientalis-hybrids.jpgOther 1 gallon size hellebores, pictured above from left to right, helleborus Spring Promise Conny, which features white blooms with distinctive dark wine red speckles.  Also pictured,  Spring Promise Elly, a double rose pink, the heavy flowering single flowering Merlin, and Spring Promise Bridget, a frilly single pink.  As with helleborus Onyx Odyssey, these hellebores are all blooming.  Have the idea to scout what cultivars you might want to grow or add to your collection?  We have other hellebores in bloom.  Mahogany Snow.  Icebreaker Fancy.  Icebreaker Prelude.  Our Icebreaker Corsica is already sold out-sorry.

helleborus-Snow-Frills.jpgSnow Frills is a semi double to double pure white.  Breaktakingly beautiful, the flowers of this hellebore.  This sturdy plant comes in an 8″ pot with multiple blooms, as pictured.  Snow Frills is that new cultivar of hellebore which features outfacing or upfacing flowers.  If you like white flowers in the spring, this cultivar may interest you.

one-gallon-hellebores.jpgBoth Snow Frills and Merlin are substantial blooming plants in 8 inch pots.  Merlin is a single blush pink, and clearly a heavy bloomer.

Helleborus-Spring-Promise-Elly.jpgThis picture is a closeup of the bloom of the Spring Promise cultivar known as Elly. The double flowers are astonishing in color and form .  We have a limited number of 1 gallon blooming plants available.

spring-promise-hellebores.jpgWe have a select group pf 4.5 inch pots of hellebores ready.  Though these are smaller plants, many of them are blooming.

helleborus winter-jewel-Golden-Lotus.jpgGolden Lotus is a strain of double flowered yellow hellebores exhibiting subtly different characteristics.  Though every plant is distinctly individual, every member of this seed strain group is stellar. All of our 4.5 inch plants are blooming.

helleborus-Black-Diamond.jpgBlack Diamond is just that-jet black.  None of these 4.5 inch plants are in bloom.  If you have a mind to have faith in a long history of breeding and a plant not in flower, we have healthy lustily growing plants available.

perennial_m_Helleborus x hybridus Winter Jewel Cherry BlossomWe have  four flats of 4.5 inch helleborus Winter Jewel Cherry Blossom available for purchase.  Only one plant has a flower. This cultivar is a must have, in my opinion.  Most nurseries offer just a few cultivars for sale, in their green state.  This makes them easy to miss.  Hellebores grow slowly.  Few cultivars grow on to blooming size in one season.  If you are a gardener willing to take chances, sign up for a Cherry Blossom.  Next spring, the anemone flowered blooms will enchant you.

helleborus-festivalis.jpgIn this picture, Spring Promise Bridget is sharing the stage with flats of English daisies.  We do have a number of other spring flowering perennials in stock as companions to our hellebores.  Bellis, double flowering primroses, and several cultivars of auricula primroses are available along with dwarf daffodils and hyacinths.

helleborus-Pink-Frost.jpgWe do have some 2 gallon pots of hellebores available.  Joseph Lemper is a white hellebore blooming very early in the spring.  The Pink Frost Hellebore pictured above- big plants.

perennial_m_helleborus x hybridus winter jewel golden sunrise9

This Winter Jewels Golden Sunrise-we have this plant in one gallon size.  Though our plants are not flowering, the promise of what is to come is clear.  We also have good sized divisions of the pale yellow hellebore, Spring Promise “Sally”.

helleborus-festivalis.jpgThis has been a very long and very trying winter.  Detroit Garden Works has the idea to jump start spring. Helleborus Festivalis-a week from tomorrow. With a collection of hellebores and accompanying plants that are eminently garden worthy.  If you are a collector, or a gardener willing to gamble, we have a few divisions of rarer hellebores available.  White Lady, Frilly Kitty, Tiffany, Valerie, WD Elegance White, WD Pale Pink, Winter Jewel Sparkling Diamond, Winter Jewel Double Painted, Winter Jewel Jade Tiger, Winter Thriller Green Gambler-email me for details. We are ready for spring-what about you?