Hellebore Favorites


An Evergreen groundcover plant with
fresh flowers for Christmas and New Year’s Day
in New England, Zone 5b…..

Seems quite magical.
Hellebore Jacob, Dec 25th

Staunchly evergreen, most Hellebores are treasured for their handsome leaves in all seasons and for their flowers through winter and early spring, when there are few other showy plants in the landscape. Some have a unique and endearing quality of flowering in subfreezing winter temperatures, even when snow is on the ground.

Hellebores are available in a great variety of kinds, with various statures, colors and flowering times. Those that flower outdoors around December 25th   are colloquially called ‘Christmas Roses’ (often Helleborus niger varieties).
Spanish researchers Carlos M. Herrera and María I. Pozo have discovered that among yeasts common in nature, some react particularly well with the sugary nectar of Hellebores, warming the airspace within their flowers. It is likely that this reaction is a great help in allowing some Hellebores to bloom through the cold months of Zone 5b.

Helleborus niger Jacob

Helleborus Jacob

Wonderful things about Hellebores in general are:

1. Shady places are usually fine for them.
2. They have few pests and are deer-resistant.
3. They require maintenance only once or twice a year.

4. They are often evergreen, and handsome individually and in groups.
5. Most of them flower for a long time.

The favorite kinds I represent below have everything – fabulous flowers, lovely leaves and good behavior in the gardens here. Most gardeners end up needing to make choices for the allocation of their planting places, so I thought I would share my very Favorites.

Not all Hellebores are equal.

The biggest problem is that lots of kinds of Hellebores have flowers that face the ground so we can’t see them very well from above.While they are great plants in many other ways, Hellebores don’t generally look at you. Downfacing flowers can be lovely, but if you could see them better you would be happier still.

Helleborus Jacob jan20
When I first met Helleborus Jacob, the Heuger company was introducing it at ‘New England Grows’ in Boston. Their entire display was made out of this plant and one other, H. Joseph. There were perhaps 100 plants in full and perfect bloom and as I walked by they were all looking at me !
That stopped me in my tracks. The delightful habit of this particular plant is to have upward and outfacing flowers.
H. Jacob have proved reliably perennial here in Zone 5B since 2009.

Their dark evergreen mounds are a handsome winter feature when they are not in flower. Since H. Jacob begins to flower in late December or so, truly it is a ‘Christmas Rose’. The flowers continue to develop and cover the plant, the scene lasting beautifully for months outside. Even if they spend some time under the snow, the flowers will be there for you when it melts and reveals them. Trim when tatty.

H. Jacob is also sensational as an indoor Chanukah/Christmas/New Year plant. If encouraged by the grower, once you acquire it in bud, you can expect a month of  flowering in the house. Luckily, for a couple of years now, our local good ol’ Trader Joe’s has had H. Jacob for sale in full bloom by December. Google can surely provide other sources.
As soon as the ground thaws, you can plant these among your perennials and they will probably return happily ever after.

Helleborus Jacob and other similarly special plant outcomes are a result of  extensive Heuger breeding programs. In the years since I met them in 2009, they have developed white doubles and deep maroon forms and many with brushed faces of two colors.and they face outwards.

……I will be surely be watching their future releases for more good bets in this Genus especially their Helleborus Gold Collection, HGC for short. These initials will identify the Heuger varieties.Hellebore Royal Heritage series May 24

Helleborus Royal Heritage

The various Hellebores provide a wide variety of flower colors including near blacks, tints and shades of purples, wine reds,  greens and pinks. I especially like the deep wine and purple colors of some of these cultivars. The reds draw your eye from a distance, and show well with their own greens against snow white. The Royal Heritage hybrids closely resemble H. orientalis. Nodding flowers adorn graceful, glossy evergreen clumps around 2’ tall. Many spread extremely well from the parent clump. These are more of a ‘Lenten Rose’, typically flowering closer to Lent than to Christmas. Unless tattered by the elements, they stay nice until late May. The flowers look great even as they go to seed. Leaving them on the plant for a long while increases the probability that some babies will appear nearby, over time. While the seedlings will not be just the same as the parents, one can select one’s own best babies, and keep good colonies going.
The crown of the parent plant will expand over time and you can divide off the younger sections to get more plants, and those will be like the original parent.

Tending your Hellebores

In fact, the foliage and flowers of many Hellebores last kind of indefinitely, but at a certain point begin to look a bit dingy and frankly Helle-boring when seen next to other freshly unfurling spring leaves. If by June you have trimmed off the flower stems and oldest leaves of your Hellebores, the airspace the old leaves occupied in the cold weather can be ‘borrowed’ for a few months by nearby effervescent perennials in their showy seasons. As their season ends, they will be been cut down, there will be good light and air for the Hellebores, encouraging new shoots to develop. When these next new leaves arrive, you will be rewarded with a fresh appearance which will last throughout the coming winter.

Ellen Cool

[1] From an article by Henry Fountain in the New York Times Science section February 26, 2010

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One Comment

  1. Posted November 14, 2016 at 3:41 am | Permalink

    What an awesome way to explain this-now I know everything!

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