The 2020 Hellebores

The hellebores do not have to compete very hard for my attention in the spring. They are just about the only perennial game in town come late March and on into April. I will admit I am out there searching for signs of them when the ground is still frozen solid. I am an enthusiast, yes. They are well worth the wait. Helleborus X hybridus-a group thought to be made up of 14 to 16 other species – is quite hardy in my zone. Other species and their hybrids, notably helleborus niger, are a little touchy for me, but well worth a try. The large leathery leaves populate sturdy compact plants, and are a rich dark glossy green. That foliage not only makes for a fine overscaled ground cover in shadier places throughout the growing season, it persists well into our winter. They prefer compost laden soil, regular moisture, and part shade conditions. That said, I have grown them successfully in full sun, and in deep shade. They are most obliging.

In an especially wet year, I will see some botrytis, but in general, the plants are healthy and hardy. They are slow to put on weight, but once they do, they bloom profusely. They are very long lived. I have more than a few that are better than 20 years old.  I hear they are not so happy to be divided, so I have stayed away from that. Their bloom story is equally as interesting.  The thick juicy flowering stalks emerge first in the spring. Each flower is surrounded by leaflets. The flower shapes and colors, given intense hybridizing efforts all over the world, are incredibly diverse. Black, white, green, red, yellow and pink are all represented in varying shades and combinations of shades. Flowers can be single, anemone flowered, or double. In my opinion, the single flowered varieties are the most persistent and longest lived. The doubles with huge petal counts are fascinating, but the singles are my favorite. A green flowered single is my favorite of all.

Once the bloom period is well underway, the plants send up new foliage. The foliage pictured above is the remains of the previous year’s leaves. In a perfect world, I would cut off the previous season’s leaves just prior to the flower stalks emerging. Should I miss that moment, I try to wait until the flowers are well out of the ground. Few gardening mishaps are as frustrating as cutting off soon to flower stalks by accident. I have done it more times than I care to remember.

What you are seeing above is a trim long past due. The scraggly brown leaves of yesteryear are not adding much to the flowering stalks coming on. David usually cuts the old foliage off, as it would require that I leap over the boxwood hedge to get within snipping distance.  At 6′ 3″ tall, he is able to step over. But he is at home in his own garden, tending to his own hellebores now, as well he should be. So I am stuck with a view, and not a presence. As it doesn’t bother me enough to risk getting there, I am intrigued to see how the plants will handle the chaos.

Several weeks in, it does not appear that any of these flowering stalks are hanging back or hindered by the lack of a cleanup. They actually seem quite indifferent to the mess. This is a rather unattractive moment, but it does illustrate the the process of nature cycling from one growing season to the next. Were I to try to get in there now and try to scoop up all the detritus, I feel every plant would be glaring at me. Years ago a friend with an extraordinary wildflower garden told me she worked very hard to see that her garden was undisturbed by her presence as much as possible. She limited her house keeping to the removal of downed limbs and branches, and all but a reasonable layer of oak leaves in the fall. Her garden was stunning. Large drifts of the same plant took hold in those spots optimal for their success. It had a relaxed and natural appearance as it was minimally and judiciously tended. Plants that have been fussed with too much have that look about them.

This area will surely test that hands off experiment. This first of this group of hellebores were planted decades ago. Should one succumb, I plant another. It is a spot that I can readily reach. But I am interested to see what will come of a hands off approach.

This old clump of Royal Heritage strain will have lots and lots of flowers.  At this stage, it is hard to imagine this plant occupying every bit of four square feet. As they are planted on the north side of a sizeable picea mucrunatum, they are slower to come on in the spring.

All of them seem to be putting forth fresh growth.

This stage is every bit as beautiful as the flowering stalks fully flushed out.

Is this a better look? I will soon have an alternate treatment available to look at.

It could be by the time this hellebore is at this particular stage, I will barely notice what did not get done.

 

Comments

  1. Kathy Shumaker says

    Hi Deborah,
    I enjoy your posts so much!
    I have 3 pockets of Hellebores in my Holland, MI garden. They are such a joy to see after our snowy winters! My favorite is ‘Pink Frost’. Last spring I transplanted clumps of tiny seedlings to a new area, and they are establishing very well, and some are even blooming. It will be interesting to see what I get in the mix…so far, only purple. Thanks for your wonderful contributions to the world of horticulture and garden design.

  2. Karen McNab says

    Deborah, is it possible to purchase hellebores from you at this time? When do you normally have your hellebore festival?

  3. Sandy Wisebaker says

    Dear Deborah,
    I look forward to your columns when they arrive.
    Truly a spot of sunshine. I have a hellebore that was a part of a flower arrangement when my mother died. I see it flower every early spring and think of the great peace and comfort that flowers bring to our souls, even sad memories. A bit of the beauty of life, even in these strange times. Thank you

  4. Nella Davis-Ray says

    According to my garden journal, in May 2014, I made my 1st plant purchase from Detroit Garden Works. Two Golden Sunrise. I’d been wanting to try growing Hellebores since I saw them doing so well in my neighbor’s yard. I was hard headed and moved them in 2016. The move did set them back a bit but this year they are looking lovely along with the other helleborus I’ve purchased from Detroit Gardens each year since 2014. Hoping you will be opening some day soon. Would like to add to my collection.

  5. Diane plocek says

    Because of cancer treatment & then neuropathy in my feet..I find myself in the same situation…although I must admit I have had help..but there is nothing to compare with working in the garden! My DGW hellebores are always beautiful! I have been a member of the Brighton Garden Club for 20 years..I have the honor of having plants from my fellow members..Now when I see a particular plant I think of that person…A garden of memories!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Diane, please accept my sincere hope that your treatment goes well. And that you are able to see your hellebores in bloom. best regards, Deborah

  6. Shawn Wallace says

    I appreciate your posts. They enliven the soul. Here in Bismarck, ND our soil is mostly still frozen. My few Hellebore have not even made a showing yet, pull mulch and remnants of last years Poplar leaves and you still reveal frost crystals. Only a few bulb tips of daffodil, tulip, maybe crocus that have been planted in a prior year are making a showing of a mere quarter of an inch. I love Snowdrops, last Autumn was my first chance to get some bulbs in, I have yet to see even the remotest of life yet. The snow has receded yes, but life below grade is slow to reveal. I imagine my year old Hellebore’s will show themselves by the end of the month. Spring in the Prairie States can be exasperatingly slow. As a native of Rochester, NY this is a painstaking course each year in patience that I must re-learn each and every year.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Shawn, what a pleasure to hear from you about your garden. Thanks for writing. all the best, Deborah

  7. Barbara Dickie says

    Hi Deborah – I live in Charlotte NC and my hellebores are my pride and joy. They love our climate and always start blooming early March/late February. They multiply when they are happy and I always give some away every year. I have moved them and divided them many times and the natural area in our yard has lots. Not only are they lovely all year – the deer don’t eat them!! another wonderful benefit!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Wow, Barbara! Your hellebores must love you. I am always afraid to mess with mine! all the best, Deborah

  8. Paula Mills says

    Deborah, I am on the Midcoast of Maine and have planted quite a few Hellebores. Is it possible to purchase a few decent sized ones from your store? Love them!

  9. Love your posts…Hellebores invasive here in the mid-South. Produce thousands of seedlings. This year, took the hedge clippers to them before they dropped the seeds. Think they are so tough you can’t even tell. I really love the blooms but need a variety that doesn’t seed itself.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Sue, excessive seeding is not a problem here. What seedlings I get are easy to pull. But I find if I don’t get to that job, very few of the seedlings actually survive and grow. best, Deborah

  10. They just hang those heads downward…….

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Greg-not all of them do. The Ice and Roses series has flowers that face sideways. best, Deborah

  11. A favorite plant of mine as well. Very reliable. Deer resistant. Everything is emerging in the garden. Spring rebirth. With social distancing, the order of the day for me is spending time in the garden. A great past time. No shortage of tasks when the garden is involved. Keep safe everyone.

  12. I love my DGW hellebores. They were my first color a month ago and they are gorgeous now and more colorful. I need more❤️

  13. Kathy Adams says

    Deborah, thanks for the comment about your friend who took a hands off approach. Life has left me with a lesser amount of time to garden. I am encouraged to know the garden won’t go to directly to hell. Of course, I love your posts.. such encouragement!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Kathy, Plants are remarkably resilient, and they existed for thousands of years before people decided to “cultivate” them. I truly think most of my plants prosper in spite of me and what I do. But I garden on. I enjoy it thoroughly, and for sure it is good for me. best, Deborah

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