Some people never have enough shoes. I believe you can never have enough hellebores. What’s not to love? They’re one of the first plants to bloom in early spring with elegant, long-lasting flowers, they have richly textured leaves and, once they’re established, are virtually care free. And did I mention you can grow them in shade?
HERE’S THE REALLY COOL PART
Hellebore blooms tend to last much longer in the garden because the largest parts of a hellebore’s showy flowers aren’t petals, they’re sepals. You have to look very closely at the centre of the flower to see the inconspicuous petals which are a fraction of the size of the sepals that surround them. But this is a good thing. While the petals of flowers quickly fade and drop off after the plant has been pollinated, a hellebore’s showy sepals shine on in all their faux-petal glory.
WHEN AND WHERE TO PLANT
Start shopping for them the minute your favourite nursery is geared up for the season so you can get them into the ground as soon as possible and keep them well-watered all summer long. That way you’ll give them an entire growing season to happily establish themselves and be ready to give you that fabulous show so early next year.
You’ll need a spot that provides good drainage in part shade to shade. Although the tag might indicate your plant can tolerate full shade, you’ll get more of a show if the plant gets some light, particularly at the beginning and end of the growing season. A place sheltered by a deciduous tree is ideal.
They’re stunning when planted at the top of a sloped or tiered garden or in a raised bed so that you can look up at them and straight into each nodding bloom. There are some hellebores bred to flower with upright blossoms but I think half the charm of this plant lies in its shyness.
KEEPING THEM HAPPY
If you’re lucky enough to live in a mild climate, chances are your hellebores’ leaves will remain green and glossy year ’round. But in Southern Ontario, where winters can be frigid and long, the leaves often die. Trim back any dead leaves in early spring once temps are averaging above zero but keep a watch on your plants as soon as the mercury starts to rise. I’ve lost plants because their dead leaves and melting snow created a wet mess that caused the new shoots and buds to rot.
As much as they last a long time in the garden, hellebore blooms can wilt pretty quickly once they’ve been picked but there is a way to get a longer lasting bouquet with them. Essentially (and un-intuitively), you wait until after the petals have dropped. Jennie Love’s Love ‘n Fresh Flowers posting about hellebore harvesting has a good how-to with gorgeous photos to help you choose hellebores at the right stage for plucking.