Hellebores: Harbinger of Spring

Striking, elegant hellebores offer color in a winter garden

Helleborus orientalis is a member of the Ranunculacae family. Native to the northeastern Mediterraean including Greece and Turkey, the Hellebores, also sometimes called the Lenten Rose, have intriguing flowers and distinctive foliage. It flowers early in the spring or late winter, hence its name, and comes in a variety of shades ranging from creams and pale greens to rose and lavender.

Hellebores
Elegant hellebores add subtle winter texture.

Typically, it prefers part to full shade, and likes a woodland setting with moist, but well drained, soil. Once established, they are very low maintenance and tolerant. They tend to like to be left alone, and if undisturbed, will bloom for decades.

The characteristics of hellebores include cup-shaped, nodding flowers clustered at the end of leafy bracts. The compound leaves are a beautiful glossy dark green that provide year-round interest. They will self-sow and spread if they are well situated. They may be up to 18 inches high and wide. Space individual plants about 2 feet apart.

Plant in early spring or the fall. Add compost or well rotted manure to enrich the soil, water well, and mulch to conserve moisture. Add compost annually to maintain soil health. Thin to prevent overcrowding.

Hellebores are poisonous. Wear gloves to avoid contact with the sap to prevent skin irritation. Pliny, the Greek historian, noted that horses, oxen, and swine were killed by eating the foliage of the black hellebore (H. niger).

They are attractive to slugs, which can be controlled by picking them off or by spreading diatomaceous earth around the plants.

Hellebores are habit forming. Their subtle elegance is something to be discovered by gardeners as their skill and experience grows, but once awakened it's difficult to stop with just one.

Resources and books

The Gardener's Guide to Growing HelleboresóGraham Rice and Elizabeth Strangman answer just about every question you can think of concerning this plant.

For a handy online reference, Hellebores , Graham Rice makes it easy to get the information.


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