"Hellebores – Winter Jewels in a Northwest Garden," by the Whistling Gardener

Hellebores are commonly known as Christmas Roses or Lenten Roses. They of course have nothing to do with actual roses and in fact bear no resemblance at all.
The beauty of Hellebores. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. 

Hellebores are commonly known as Christmas Roses or Lenten Roses. They of course have nothing to do with actual roses and in fact bear no resemblance at all. Go figure! But many varieties bloom from Christmas to Easter and therefore are associated with this time of the year.

This is “high season” for Hellebores so I thought it would be timely to give them their 15 minutes of fame.

Generally speaking, hellebores are mostly evergreen perennials that grow in shade or light shade and are not bothered by slugs, don’t need dividing constantly, are drought tolerant once established, and bloom in the winter.

They are great companions for ferns, astilbies, hostas and a whole host of shade loving plants.

Their ease of care and winter blooming habit make them a good choice for the casual as well as the avid gardener. Here are some varieties to look for now:

The traditional Christmas Rose is a short plant about one foot tall with mostly white flowers that nod down to the ground. Many new introductions now have flowers that are more upward facing so you don’t have to stand on your head to appreciate them.

All hellebore flowers last for months but lose their color after several weeks and turn green for the rest of the time. You can always cut them off at that point if you don’t like them. The Gold Collection has a nice selection of the upward facing varieties.

The Oriental Hellebore (also known as Lenten Rose) blooms just after the Christmas Rose and is taller (about 18-24 inches) and comes in a much larger range of colors. Breeders have developed many new strains that sport colors from dark smoky purple (almost black) to pinks, yellows and whites.

Many have freckling on their petals and some are ruffled. In the last several years double ones have come on the market that are to die for. Look for the Winter Jewels Collection for many of the newer introductions.

The Stinking Hellebore is a very attractive evergreen perennial that blooms with apple green flowers in February and March. The fragrance isn’t anything to write home about but the foliage is wonderful.

The Corsican Hellebore is a still larger variety that can get up to three to four feet tall and blooms in late March, again with the greenish flowers atop the three foot stems.

I have one under my birch tree that performs like clockwork every year. It is also slightly more sun and drought tolerant than the above varieties. For an exotic variation try “Pacific Frost” with her stunning mottled cream foliage. This time of year the new growth is spectacular.

Needless to say, I have one of each of these varieties growing somewhere in my garden and look forward every winter to their performances.

I have never seen a slug bite, never had to divide them, never had to spray them, and often dig up seedlings that I have shared with my gardening friends. Every garden needs a hellebore or two.

You can find Hellebores in full bloom now at just about any garden center. The exotic ones get snatched up fast so don’t wait until the weather is warm and cozy or you will miss out.

Whether you are a weekend “yardener” or fanatical gardener, you can’t miss with any of these Hellebores.

Educational opportunities at Sunnyside Nursery:

The Beauty of Hellebores: February 21st Saturday 10:00 am.

Dealing with Diseases and Insects February 22 Sunday 1:00 pm.

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached online at


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