Growing Hellebores: The Perfect Perennial

'Maid of Honor' Wedding Series (photo credit: Walter's Gardens)

'Maid of Honor' Wedding Series (photo credit: Walter's Gardens)

If names like 'Blushing Bride', 'Bridesmaid', 'Flower Girl' and 'Best Man', not to mention 'Confetti Cake', have you polishing your shoes for a swing on the dance floor, don't. Instead, get out your garden trowel and get some dirt under your fingernails.

Plant breeders like to group plants into "series." Breeder, Hans Hansen (of Walter's Gardens) has a passion for hellebores (and hostas, 'Stained Glass' and 'Cathedral Windows' are two of his most well-known). Now, he has created two can't-live-without-them series of hellebores, Wedding Party and the Honeymoon series.

'Blushing Bridesmaid' Wedding Series (Photo credit: Walter's Gardens.)

'Blushing Bridesmaid' Wedding Series (Photo credit: Walter's Gardens.)

The Wedding party hellebores are double flowers in colors of white, pink, mauve,  yellow, purple and even black. The Honeymoon series takes you traveling with names like 'New York Night,' 'Paris in Pink,' and 'Rome in Red,' but you don't have to leave your backyard. These single flower blooms are apricot, black, wine red, yellow and pink.  

Hellebores get their common name, Lenten Rose, from the Christian season of Lent, because many varieties begin blooming about then, and bonus, hold their blooms for 6+ weeks.

Hellebores bloom in early winter in mild climates or late winter in harsher ones, which means, they're the first or last blooms you see in your garden. Which means, no garden should ever be without them.

These long-lived, evergreen perennials are deer resistant, vole resistant and prefer shade. In Western North Carolina, those are happy words for gardeners.

'Confetti Cake' Wedding Series (photo credit: Walter's Gardens)

'Confetti Cake' Wedding Series (photo credit: Walter's Gardens)

Blooms vary in size, from the smaller straight species (1.5") to the newer varieties like Ballerina Ruffles with flowers 3" across and 15-20 petals. The nodding hellebores are perfect for embankments, making blooms more visible. Hellebores can handle dry shade (after getting established with proper watering the first planting season), and though they take a couple of seasons to establish themselves, once they do, they are long-lived and pest free, not to mention, evergreen.

Zones: 5-9

Exposure: Prefer partial shade but can take full shade so long as they are under deciduous trees that allow sunlight for them to bloom in early spring. Too much shade and you won't have flowers (or as many).

Soil: Slightly acidic to neutral; no wet feet. These are drought tolerant plants.

Care: A good layer of compost or mulch annually encourages growth (no more than 2 inches is needed)Remove last year's foliage in late winter or early spring. 

Propagation: Division isn't necessary, but it can be done in spring or late summer. Pull the plants apart with your hands.

Companion Plants: Ephemeral plants, ferns, hostas, bleeding hearts, toad lilies, primroses

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Now is the time to buy hellebores. We start bringing them into the store in late fall (and have a sale on them!). While we gardener's wait for warmer weather tucked inside out warm homes, these harbingers of spring seem to handle whatever Mother Nature throws at them--snow, ice and frigid temperatures. Seriously. What more could a gardener ask for?

Written by Cinthia Milner, OSA, Garden Coach, blog writer.

BB Barns Garden Center serves Asheville, Western North Carolina, Upstate South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee.