When it comes to the winter garden, few plants are tougher and give more pleasure than hellebores. These primarily evergreen perennials bloom from late winter — even in snow — through spring in a wide palette of colors. And better still, deer snub their noses at them!
Although they’re considered shade perennials, hellebores perform best if given some sun, and if allowed to reseed, they create a ground cover of new plants. Small-space gardeners can enjoy them as well as specimen plants in container gardens.
A member of the buttercup family, hellebores (from the genus Helleborus) are native to much of Europe, and in North America, where they’re hardy from zone 3 through 9. They have become extremely popular during the past 10 to 15 years in part because they are so highly adaptable.
Hellebores are clump-forming evergreens with leathery serrated leaves and grow about 18 to 24 inches tall and 24 to 30 inches wide. Their long-lasting blooms come in a wide variety of colors, from pure white, cream, green and pale yellow to pink, rose, magenta, plum and near black.
Often referred to generically as Lenten rose, hellebores are the stars of the late winter/early spring garden because they provide a burst of color and texture at a time when most perennials are dormant. The most popular, Helleborus orientalis, offers a variety of hybrids that bloom in wide-ranging colors. Some cultivars bloom as early as December, others as late as April and May. One type known as the Christmas rose (H. niger) is a favorite of cottage gardeners because its pure white flowers often turn deep pink throughout winter. Legend has it that it got its name from a flower that a young girl — too poor to offer a gift — presented to the Christ child in Bethlehem on Christmas Day.
In summer, after the blooms fade, hellebores provide a nice, dense green foil for blooming perennials.
Hint: If you want to increase your crop of these winter favorites, don’t bother to mulch around these drought-tolerant plants. That way, as they drop their seeds they’ll make contact with the soil and make baby hellebores, which can create a ground cover or be transplanted elsewhere in the garden.
What’s not to like?