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"Hellebores are Back," by the Whistling Gardener

Hellebores are a classic example of a seasonal perennial that is readily available throughout the winter and then missing during the summer months. I am excited to tell you that they are once again arriving on our benches and ready for planting.
Hellebores in the Whistling Gardener’s back yard. 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.

If you are the type that visits a garden center on a regular basis, then you have probably noticed that plants have their seasons. Primroses, for example, are typically only available for a short time in late winter and very early spring.

Most blooming plants will be featured front and center during the time of year when they are the showiest and the rest of the season either moved to the back or simply become “out of stock.” It’s no different than seasonal candy, like red and green M and M’s for Christmas or yellow and pink Peeps for Easter.

Hellebores are a classic example of a seasonal perennial that is readily available throughout the winter and then missing during the summer months. I am excited to tell you that they are once again arriving on our benches and ready for planting.

If you don’t have a clue what a Hellebore is, perhaps the terms of Christmas Rose or Lenten Rose might sound more familiar. The Christmas Rose and all of the new hybrids, start blooming as early as November and continue into the new year. The flowers are mostly white, but newer hybrids are showing some shades of pink to almost red. Some also have marbled foliage, which will provide additional winter interest since Hellebores are evergreen.

Lenten Roses start blooming around the first of the year and continue into spring, with both single and double flowers in an array of colors - all the way from white to black and everything in between, except maybe blue. They can be picotee or frilled or freckled or just solid colors.

For winter interest in the garden or containers, they are unsurpassed for long lasting blooms and ease of care. A once a year removal of last year’s foliage just before bloom is all that is required, along with of course cutting off the spent flowers once they have finished.

Hellebores thrive in shady locations and don’t mind a little drought. They are slow growing and rarely need dividing, so once planted you almost never need to thin them out. They make great companions to ferns, ornamental grasses and just about any shade loving plant.

If you are short on space in the garden, try planting them in containers with other evergreen, winter hardy perennials or even dwarf conifers. Throw in a colorful pansy now or a primrose in February for an added spark of color.

There are so many new hybrids on the market that it can be overwhelming, but here are a few I spotted that seem well worth trying.

Mahogany Snow” — This hybrid sports large, creamy flowers with light pink reverse and reddish stems. Blooms as early as November on through February.

Dana’s Dulcet” — This Lenten rose starts blooming in February with upright reddish-pink blooms and year around attractive marbled foliage. According to the literature, it took 12 years to develop a red blooming hellebore with marbled foliage and from the photos, it’s a stunner.

Anna’s Red” — Introduced in 2013, this one really caught my eye last year. The foliage emerges in spring a bronzy green color with electric pink veining, eventually maturing to cream and remaining attractive all year long. Dark purple buds on red stems open to saturated purple-red flowers, which can last two to three months.

Ice N Roses Picotee” — Something a bit more snazzy, this one has bicolor rose pink and white, upward-facing flowers on a very sturdy plant. There are several variations in the “Ice N Roses” series, so you might find a couple you just can’t live without.

As we move through winter more varieties of hellebores will become available, so don’t miss out on this great opportunity to add some winter interest to your garden.

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, WA, and can be reached at info@sunnysidenursery.net

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