let there be hellebores!

black helleborus orientalis 2I ALWAYS START TO FEEL BETTER, like we’re turning a corner, when the hybrids of Helleborus orientalis jump all the way up out of the ground and start showing off. After a couple of weeks of timid semi-bloom, with the flowers hugging close to the ground on unextended stalks as if in fear of assault by lingering winter blasts, here they finally come. More on these favorite plants, including a podcast:

I started a decade ago with a flat of seedlings of “black” ones (above, a grown-up plant of my favorite color) and yellow ones (below, from another of my oldest, an example with a dark blotch inside). You can see that the yellows are more vigorous, with many more flower stalks per clump. Some of my yellow plants have close to 40 stalks with three to four blooms each, or 125 to 150ish flowers on one plant. They also start to emerge earlier from winter here, compared to the very dark-colored ones.

yellow helleborus orientalisFrom these two colors I ended up with everything in between, including some bicolors, and once I saw the possibilities I bought some more such oddities, as these stories, recent podcast, and slideshows confirm:

Learn More:

31 comments
April 13, 2011

comments

  1. Terryk says

    Looking good Margaret. See some babies popping up there around the base of the plants too. Mine have been up now for about a week.

  2. says

    Yours look almost black! That’s tremendous. Mine are a demure lavender and white, which is rather boring but in a Colorado garden at this time of year, we’ll take ANYTHING ;-)

    • says

      Welcome, Patricia. Yes, they really are — and some are almost slate-colored purple-gray-black, I swear. Crazy. I have lavender offspring, too, and pinkish ones and lots of things between. Love these plants.

  3. says

    Your hellebores look amazing in those wonderful thick clusters.
    I bought one hellebore last fall because of how you rave about them as an early spring blossom. We’re a little further behind here in NH (crocuses are just blooming) but I hope to see my first hellebore blossom soon!

  4. says

    I can hardly stand it! I listened to your radio spot, Margaret, and I was drooling on my feet. I must get some. Unfortunately I see conflicting hardiness reports. I am in zone 4. What do you think?

  5. Martha Van Zanten says

    Lovely–I’ve got quite a few, from purchased plants, a flat of seedlings, and self seeded babies. Do you have any advice for bringing them inside–apart from floating them? When I put stalks in water they turn to mush.

  6. says

    I love hellebores, especially the `black` ones. They are marginally hardy here in Alberta, but we do have quite a few that have survived for 10 years or more in the perennial trial garden at the Calgary Zoo. I tried to check on them this week, but there was still a snowdrift covering the path!
    I love your blog, Margaret, and your book too – thank you!

    • says

      Welcome, Emily. The plant will get better and better with age; they have big root systems and take awhile to settle down and get big, bigger, biggest. :)

      Welcome, Martha. They really aren’t great cut flowers — unless you “condition” them. I have read tactics that vary from dipping the fresh-cu stems in boiling water to singing the ends with a match or lighter to simply putting them immediately in a bucket of water to which professional flower preservative has been added (sounds easiest). I think part of the trick is that this must be done at once – right as they are cut. I cann’t say I have done this myself. The green H. foetidus (stinking hellebore) seems to last a bit more without as much fuss here. And you can also just float the flowers with a tiny bit of stem in a bowl of water, but it’s not the same as a bouquet in a vase.

      Welcome, Ann. Thank you for the words of encouragement on the site and book. I do love the black ones best of all, and mine were under snow two weeks ago, so I know what you mean. Ugh!

  7. Terryk says

    Halons, I am not sure where your garden is located, but hellebores need a warm cold warm cycle to germinate. Seed here in NY usually ripens in June the seed can be collected then abd sown or purchased at that time. You sow the seeds, they get their warm period, then go through winter and get their cold, germinating the following spring. They take about 3 years to flower from seed. once you have a few plants in the garden they do it on their own and then you will be pulling out seedlings as weeds!

    I have those slate black ones too Margaret and love them. I hope you don’t mind me directing others to another website. Garden buddies.com has a hellebore forum with members from all over the world. You want to see hellebore porn, go take a look. You don’t have to pay but if you register as a member I think you get more access to photos and can post questions.

  8. Judy says

    I’ve been loving hellebores for a couple of decades here in the NW. Right at the sidewalk border so that I can see then every day as I drive out to work and arrive back home in the early evening. Unfortunately my grandson is just learning to ride a bike w/o training wheels. He’s not so good on the brakes and rode right over them twice last weekend, but they are so determined that they have just popped back and several new stalks are coming up. Tough to balance love of family with love of hellebores.

  9. Terryk says

    Judy, you must be fortunate to be albe to get some Northwest Garden Nursery. Sounds like such a nice idea to have them along the sidewalk border.

  10. says

    I went home to visit my father on the east coast last month and I did a lot of work in my old garden at his house. It made me really sad that I had only planted one Hellebore there. When I was living there full time I never appreciated how valuable a late winter bloomer was.

  11. Rosella says

    I planted one kinda-pink hellebore in my garden about 15 years ago, at the top of an ivy-covered bank. The descendants have not only changed colours (they are evidently pretty promiscuous), but have naturalized down the bank in the ivy. There are now seedlings everywhere every spring, and it is true that I pull them out when I am weeding that area because I don’t need any more. What an obliging and agreeable plant!

    As to cutting them for the house — I find the only ones that will behave properly in a vase are the white hybrids that are showing up now at outrageous prices in fancy garden centres — I can’t remember the names, but a friend has a big clump of them and they hold for days in water. Jacob’s something?

  12. balsamfir says

    Don’t know about seeding in, but I’m hoping… Christine, yes you CAN have Hellebores in Zone 4, but you have to be very patient, and sometimes they don’t bloom until quite late. I started with one small seedling grown by my aunt (an oriental I think), and its now starting 4 years later to finally look like something. I’m zone 4a and we’re always colder than -27F, sometimes without any snow cover. I don’t rake my leaves in the fall, but that’s all the protection they get.

  13. says

    I’ve found that specific varieties within helleborus orientalis do better here [Anchorage Alaska] than others. The greens do well, but my favorite (and hardiest) to date is the “Blue Lady”. My recommendation: Don’t cut the flowers. Blue Lady blooms last a solid 8 weeks, slowly bending further down as their seed pods mature.

    • says

      Welcome, Spencer. I have to go look up ‘Blue Lady.’ I have a number of “slate” colored ones, and it sounds like it may be like those. Love them. Hope to see you again soon.

  14. Sandy says

    When do you trim the old leaves off? I did this month and now am enjoying the blooms. Should I have done trimmed in the fall?
    Since I live just north of Toledo, OH I just love this quote.

    You can’t see Canada across Lake Erie, but you know it’s there. It’s the same with spring. You have to have faith, especially in Cleveland.” ~Paul Fleischman

  15. Lorraine says

    I love hellebores! Mine have been blooming since November, under leaves, and then under snow. Still blooming now! Would this be considered the type known as Advent or Christmas Rose?

  16. says

    My hellebores have been blooming since February and doo very well in my woodland gardens on the Eastern Shore of Maryland…I have all colors: blacks, creamy whites, lime greens, pinks and deep purples…I was fortunate to purchase a double pink one this year from Pine Knot Nursery in VA….I find them to be very hardy and long blooming..The ones that popped in February are still blooming 2 months later in April.
    I trim the old leaves in late winter….just as the new growth is emerging on the plants.

  17. Terryk says

    I may have asked this question here before, so please forgive me if I did.

    Has anyone found out who may have bought Senneca Hill’s Thanksgiving blooming hellebore. They bloomed reliably for this nursery in their cold Oswego location. If you have seen them listed anywhere can you let me know?

  18. naomi says

    I still lurk here, but this entry brought me out. I live in zone 9 (New Orleans) and bought some inexpensive ones a couple of years ago, just to see if they could make it in the heat here. I had my first blooms (two) this year. I think I have the “stinky” ones, the flower is a pale green. I didn’t cut them back – I was afraid they wouldn’t return if I did. Do you think they only flowered due to the freeze we had this year, or they’re old enough? I’ve got several friends lusting after them now, especially as the foliage is nice too. Thanks for all this information; I forwarded a link to a friend already.

  19. Terryk says

    Naomi I know of people growing them in GA, they probably need more shade then I give mine. I have actually tucked them into a vegetable garden for at least four years and they were very large and flowered well. I would think as yours age they will give you more flowers. I have not had luck with the “stinky one” and have heard they are a bit short lived. I have heard that they set seed well and you should have replacements from that. If you want to learn more about them or acquire more, pine knot nursery is a source here in the states. The owner Judith co-authored a book, which you might be able to get through your library or by buying online. Title is Hellebores.

  20. naomi says

    Thanks, Terryk. I got my from Sunshine Farms (or something like that). The first bloom is still beautiful, in a simple way, after more than three weeks. I’ll look for that book and the nursery. Thank you, too, Margaret.

  21. says

    Hi Margaret – and thank you for the welcome. You don’t need to look up ‘Blue Lady’. I changed the above url to point to my facebook pic of last year’s pic of a ‘Blue Lady’. There are a couple of others in the same album as well.

  22. Dana says

    Yes, It is marvelous to see the lovely Hellebores. My Hellebores look so healthy and vibrant this spring. After the cold hard winter they are showing off their great hardiness. I have to go out with my cup of coffee and look at them every morning !

  23. Kathy M says

    I live about 40 minutes from Pineknot Nursery in Va. so go to their Hellebore Festival every year. Needless to say I have a lot of Hellebores but I love them so its ok if they spread around the garden and produce lots of seedlings. I just thin out the ones I don’t want and share them with friends. Even after the blooms are gone the foliage makes a great addition in the shade garden. I still haven’t found a sucessful way to use them in arrangements but the blosssoms floating in an old bird bath look beautiful.

  24. says

    I adore hellebores! I had a gorgeous swath of
    the black ones but sadly, they didn’t make it this
    year, which makes me very sad. Any chance I can
    save them?

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