Our Hellebore Festival

greenhouse-frog.jpgThe Helleborus Festivalis starts at Detroit Garden Works at 9am tomorrow-sharp.  What has taken months to put together is just about ready for the curtain to rise.  Rob has done his usual incredible job, sourcing interesting hellebore cultivars of size and in bloom for our gardening clientele.  The resident greenhouse frog approves of our case of baby tears.  All of us feel, given his appearance, that our festival will be a good one.  We had David and Mary Moore in today, owners of Stone Cottage Gardens in Gladwin Michigan.  We had a young man in the area on a business trip choosing hellebores for his gardener girlfriend. He made this older gardener happy.  Young gardeners, older gardeners-I welcome all of them.  As for avid collectors of hellebores, we will ship when the weather moderates, to Rochester Minnesota, Cleveland, Ohio, and Flint Michigan.  I like this.

helleborus-festivalis.jpgWe have lots of companion plants to the hellebores.  Honeysuckle boxwood.  Euonymus and myrtle topiaries.  Silver pilea.  baby tears.  Hyacinths throwing bloom stalks.  Every plant Rob chose is a celebration of the spring.  A celebration of green.  This first day of spring, we are ready for the chance to garden again.  And ready for those other gardeners that grace our doors.  Conversation about the garden over a boatload of well grown hellebores-a pleasure for everyone.

spring-containers.jpgMy garden at home still has lots of snow.  But I can see the signs of spring.  I hear the birds in the morning.  The evergreens in my garden are emerald green, not that black shade of winter green.  I put away my winter coat-I was so tired of it.  We had sun today.  The ice is melting.  The hellebores in my garden are still under 3 feet of snow.  Not my first choice of a garden situation.  In the greenhouse at Detroit Garden Works, there is a different situation.  Spring on our schedule. Though we know we have little influence over the state of the garden, we can create a spring of our own.

spring-container-planting.jpgIt was pure serendipity, deciding to do a March festival especially in honor of the hellebore.  Both Rob and I are big fans of this particular perennial.  The flowers of cultivars of Helleborus Orientalis – the Lenten Rose – are showstopping.  The plants are vigorous, meaning they show up every spring without any handholding.  The petals cure and hold on for 6 weeks or better.  They seed generously.  The foliage is almost evergreen.  What’s not to love?  An event given over to the spring flowering hellebores made us plant lots of spring flowering containers.  This box of cyclamen, grape hyacinths and white bellis is a sure sign of what is to come.  Spring-what could possibly be better?

Detroit-Garden-Works.jpgWe had no idea the winter would go on so long.  As in, we still have winter here.  Our spring hellebore celebration has a special meaning we never anticipated.  Though nature has been amazingly uncooperative in making a change of seasons, our idea is to bring a celebration of spring of our own to bear.  Gardeners make the garden.  We hear their voices.  If you are in our area, pay us a visit.  We promise you will not be disappointed.   Hellebores make great container plants that can tolerate being house bound until the garden is ready to be worked.

hellebores-in-the-greenhouse.jpgOur small greenhouse is stuffed with decent numbers of 28 cultivars of helleborus orientalis.  Rob added pots of double primroses to the mix.  These prikmroses are hardy to 30 below zero.  Given our past winter, that root hardiness rating may be appealing.  We have pots of primula obconica. There is more-auricula primroses just coming in to bloom..  Honeysuckle boxwood on standard.  Bellis in bloom. Hyacinths and daffodils in pots.  A celebration of spring in spite of a winter that will not let go.

spring-festival.jpgHow spring starved we all are makes all of Rob’s choices that much more to treasure.  I have dirt and moss stains on my hands-how great is that?  I have been planting spring pots.  What a relief-what a treasure.

spring-2014.jpgIf you garden in our area, I would suggest that our helleborus festivalis might be just the jumpstart of spring that will bring a smile to your gardening heart.

double-primrose.jpgdouble primrose

spring-flowering-branches.jpgforced forsythia and cherry branches

pots-of-hyacinths.jpgpotted hyacinths

myrtle-topiaries.jpgmyrtle topiaries and white hyacinths

potted-hellebore.jpga hellebore in a pot with curly pussy willow

spring-container-planting.jpgA spring container planting with hellebores.  We are ready.  We would guess you are too.


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.

Hellebores: Recent Forms

hellebores-2014.jpgI have only been growing helleborus orientalis in my garden for 10 years or so.  Why I was so late adding them to me garden is a mystery.  Perhaps they were done blooming by the time I started haunting nurseries for plants.  I may have missed them.  Perhaps the time it took a hellebore to grow into a decent sized blooming plant was too long to make commercial production widespread.  Whatever the reason, I am a fan now.  They are sturdy plants with thick leather like foliage.  Many of them are hardy in zone 4, which means very hardy. They thrive in light to medium shade, and like alkaline soil-perfect for my yard. In a mild winter, the foliage is evergreen.  The color of the petals eventually fade, but they hold onto the stalk for a long time after the flower is spent.  In June my plants will look like they are covered with green flowers.  My plants are a strain grown from seed called Royal Heritage mix.  This mix has been around for a fairly long time, and produces somewhat muted flowers from dark purple to pink, white and green.
double hellebore.jpgHellebores increase in size slowly, so the prices for good size plants can be considerable.  The flowers emerge on leafless stalks in early spring-late March or early April in my yard.  The new season’s leaves come from the ground after the flowering cycle is over.  They are long lived, and make dense clumps some 18 inches tall or so.  They are willing seeders, should you have the mind to grow them on.  The species helleborus orientalis features nodding flowers,  meaning they face down.  You would have to get down on the ground to look up into their faces, or cut the flowers and float them in a bowl.

yellow hellebore.jpgOne can now find varieties with yellow flowers-shocking,  this development. The first yellow hellebore I ever saw in person-I could not take my eyes off of it. This development was only the beginning.  Breeders in Japan, England, Canada and the US  (and no doubt in many other countries) are breeding plants with double flowers. Spots.  picotee forms.  unusual colors. Helleborus Black Oddyssey is just that-an inky black.  Helleborus Ivory Price is a strong grower, and features flowers that face up.  Michigan hybridizer Chris Hansen is responsible for breeding a breathtakingly beautiful group of hellebores known as “Winter Thrillers”.  Improved flower color, flower size, plant vigor, and foliage are the trademark of these plants.  He has been breeding hellebores for over 15 years; his newer introductions are stunning.  There is a wealth of information about hellebores on line now.  If you are interested, make a cup of coffee, and explore.

double hellebore.jpgI have never been so much a fan of double flowers.  The singles just appeal to me more.  This is a preference that is being challenged by the new varieties of double hellebores.  A flower such as this is very hard to pass by.  A fan of double bloodroot might well be taken with this hellebore.  Many of the newer named hellebores are available via the technology of tissue culture.  Helleborus orientalis hybrids of old were all seed strains.  No technology existed to exactly reproduce a particular plant.  Not that I do not treasure seed strains of hellebores.  There is always the chance of once in a lifetime spectacular plant.  No one discusses the beauty of seed strains better than Carolyn from Carolyn’s Shade Garden.

hellebore-Anna's-Red.jpgA love for seed strains of hellebores implies a gardener that can successfully bring on seedlings or grow successfully from seed (I am thinking Joseph Tychonievich who grows for Arrowhead Alpines in Michigan)-or that gardener who is intrigued by the prospect of a seedling that is yet to flower.  Not your thing?  Lots of hellebores are available true to name-meaning they are being reproduced by tissue culture.  I do have a few plants from my Royal heritage mix that are extraordinary in plant habit and bloom-others are not so swell.  This named cultivar, Anna’s Red, is an outstanding plant.  It was named after Anna Pavord, UK gardener and writer.

hybrid-hellebore.jpgNo matter what you might fancy, there is probably a hellebore that will appeal to you.  Hellebores, in my opinion, are part of that group of plants that I call fancy plants.  Fancy, as in new hybrids of hosta.  Fancy, as in unusual.  Like the Rembrandt tulips-although their news is now centuries old.  Lots of rare and gorgeous plants that gardeners are prone to become besotted over are not such great growers.  But I feel convinced that the new hybrids of hellebores are rugged plants. I feel confident in saying any effort you make to grow them will be rewarded.

anemone-flowered-hellebore.jpg I have never seen one that did not make my heart pound a little faster.  This single flower with an anemone center-wow.  Though I have always favored green or white single flowered hellebores, I see no good reason not to change my mind.   Interested further?  The book “Hellebores – A Comprehensive Guide”,  written by C. Colston Burrell and Judith Knott Tyler is a  classic.  Judith’s nursery, Pine Knott Farms, is a major supplier of fine hellebores.  Even a casual internet search will provide lots of information and sources for this stellar spring blooming perennial.

double-white-hellebore.jpgRob always has a fresh idea for Detroit Garden Works.  This winter has been so severe and so long, I doubt anyone will be turning over the dirt much in March.  The freezing and snowy landscape notwithstanding, every gardener will be ready to talk plants the first day we hit 40 degrees.  He has a plan for a big opportunity for some gardening conversation.  In late March, we will have over 600 hellebores available for review and purchase.  A helleborus Festivalis.

hellebore-hybrid.jpgEvery gardener has a big interest in plants.  The plants are a bridge where every gardener of every persuasion might meet.  That bridge is a place to be.  A chance to move from where we are, given a little conversation and exchange, to where or how we might want to be gardening.  We hope you are able to join us March 22nd and 23rd  at Detroit Garden Works for a little taste of the spring to come.

pink-double-hellebore.jpgA double pink hellebore might be just the thing to chase away the late winter blues.





Green Flowered Hellebores

helleborus-corsicus.jpgThe herbaceous perennial helleborus is represented by 20 or so species.  It is a member of the ranunculus family.  This incredible picture of a flower of Helleborus Corsicus, from about-garden.com, tells the tale.  Hellebore flowers are comprised of 5 sepals, which persist in fruit.  The fact that hellebores emerge from the ground and bloom very early in our gardening year is plenty enough reason to grow them.  But the fact that the 5 sepals hang on for months-during and after the time that the flower sets seed-is even more compelling. The lustrous green foliage grows vigorously, and persists in my garden throughout the winter.  My plants are virtually care free.  They get sun, adequate moisture, and are protected from winter winds by an old stand of dwarf spruce-picea mucrunulatum.  I have never divided them, nor do I feed them.  I do spend plenty of time looking at them-they are that good looking.

helleborus argutifoliusI had a mind to grow helleborus argutifolius, as I am very fond of green flowers.  This species grows quite tall, and features shiny and spiny leaves.  I had no idea at the time that hellebores are divided into 2 groups-those that bloom on the leaf stalks like helleborus argutifolius, and those whose leafless flower stalks emerge from the ground in the spring.  I was never successful with this hellebore-the Michigan winters invariably rotted the buds before they could open in the spring.  I finally ripped them all out, in favor of those hellebores whose flowers were kept safely below ground until the freezing winter weather had passed.

helleborus-viridis.jpgHelleborus viridis is fairly uncommon in the garden.  It is usually the darkest green, and the shortest of the green hellebores.  You can find excellent photographs and descriptions via Graham Rice.   http://www.grahamrice.com/hellebore/species/viridis/


Helleborus orientalis has in recent years been the subject of considerable hybridization.  You can find beautiful green hellebores for sale at Carolyn’s Shade Garden, Pine Knot Farms, Plant Delights Nursery, Fraser’s Thimble Farms and Arrowhead Alpines.  If you love green flowers, and perennial plants that are beautiful the entire season long, try some green hellebores.  To follow is a collection of pictures that will give an idea of wide a range of green flowering cultivars are available.




early-and-late-green-hellebore-flowers.jpgThis picture from my own garden shows the flower in full bloom on the left, and the sepals still intact on a flower from the same plant on the right.

double-green-hellebore-flowers.jpgMany of  these pictures come from hellebores.org – an excellent reference, if you are looking for more information.

pale-green-helleborus-orientalis.jpgThis photo is from dailymail.co.uk.  My hellebores at home are just beginning to throw their flower stalks.  The next month will be such fun-watching them develop.

green-hellebore-flower.jpgThese flowers are incredibly beautiful.  Looking fore a plant that is worth all of your love and then some?  Try a hellebore.