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.


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?


Don’t let the title of this post make you think I am all in and over my head. I have no plan to discuss culture, as in the cumulative arts and intellectual achievement of a neighborhood or nation or region or era.  I would be over my head.  I am interested in culture as the process of making something grow.  Scientists are able to culture bacteria in a petrie dish, loaded with whatever medium known to make bacteria thrive.  Knowing what it takes to make bacteria multiply may help to discover what might starve them off.  Cultivation is an agricultural term dating back centuries.  Farmers do what they can to provide optimal growing conditions for the seeds of any plant they wish to grow.  Gardeners cultivate plants in their garden.  Any plant you choose to grow the idea implies a willingness to provide optimal conditions.

potting-hellebores.jpgThe plant of my current moment is helleborus orientalis, and its hybrids.  A cultivar is a shortened version referring to cultivated varieties.  Some hybrids of hellebores have poor foliage, or are shy bloomers. Others are not especially hardy, or the flowers may be buried in the foliage.  Some cultivars have muddy colors, or poor form.  Others have no inclination to grow.  Plant breeders are an individual lot.  They have a very personal and usually very long range plan to breed cultivars that grow vigorously, bloom profusely, are hardy and disease resistant.  Every breeder has a different idea of what constitutes the holy grail.

spring-pots.jpgHelleborus orientalis and its related hybrids or cultivars thrive in light to medium shade, in well draining compost rich soil that has a source of regular moisture.  My hellebores are planted in full sun, but I am careful to provide additional water during dry spells.  I do not fuss over them much.  If you cultivate hellebores in conditions that approximate their ideal siting, they will probably do well.  The not fussing has a deeper meaning.  Plants that appreciate and thrive in compost rich soil implies they like places where the falling leaves are allowed to rot.  Those places not subject to an inordinate amount of cleanup.

potted-hellebores.jpgI do not cultivate the soil around my hellebores.  If a hellebore is inclined to seed, it will do so with abandon.  Scraping the surface in anticipation of weeds might well eliminate any seeding..  Turning the soil may turn under all the germinated babies.  Even hybrids of helleborus orientalis resent too much attention.  Most plants come equipped with an incredible will to live, standard issue.  I cultivate my landscape with as light a hand as I can manage.  I try not to interfere too much, unless there is a genuine call to action.

spring-blooming-hellebores.jpgIf you would like to grow hellebores, chances are you have a spot.  As beautiful as they are, they are not so fussy.  Deep shade means you will have fewer flowers.  Deep and dry sandy shade-they don’t love this so much. Maybe another species of hellebore would be better, if this describes your conditions. A quiet spot in compost laden spongy soil in light shade-just about perfect.  I try to site my plants in locations that I believe will encourage them to grow and prosper. This is plant culture.

helleborus-orientalis.jpgAs for the hellebores in the greenhouse now at Detroit Garden Works, we keep the space cool.  We run our greenhouse fans non stop. Good air circulation is a good idea for perennial plants being cultivated indoors. We don’t water these leathery leaved plants until they really need it.

growingt-hellebores.jpgThe requirements for the successful cultivation of hellebores in the garden don’t so much apply to growing them in pots.  They make a great centerpiece for a spring container for a sunny window.  Rob has been potting them up all day today.  He has chosen to pair these blooming cultivars with cut stems of curly pussy willow, and a top dressing of natural moss.

pussy-willow.jpgThe hellebores in the ground in my garden are buried under 5 feet of snow-this is today’s news.  I cannot begin to predict how my hellebore garden will do or not do this spring. This has been a winter with which I have no familiarity or experience. In the meantime, am enjoying potting up hellebores in a way I believe will hold them just fine until I can work the soil in my garden.  Rob has paired his hellebore pots with fresh cut shoots of curly pussy willow. He is cultivating spring, as only he can.

hellebores-in-bloom.jpgClose by?  Stop in.