Part Shade: Hellebore- A Great Early Bloomer

Why go out of your way to track down Hellebore plants? When it comes to early blooms, they really have no rival!
I hoped to include a few images of my own Hellebore flowers in this post, but sadly they're buried under six or eight inches of snow. Snow in December is seasonal and cheery. Snow in April is just plain depressing! More rain and snow is forecast for the coming days, so it looks like warm spring weather is still at least a week away.
Hellebores are relatively new to my garden. I just have a few; a couple of plants friends have kindly given me and a few I have purchased myself.
Plants may come recommended to you, but you can never fully appreciate what they can do for your garden until you grow them yourself. Before the weather took a turn for the colder, I took a stroll through the garden looking for signs of spring. I paused to appreciate the delicate white snowdrops and the first crocus. Then I came across the maroon Hellebore that Joy, a blogging friend, had sent me last spring. The small flowers I had just admired paled a little in comparison with the cluster of these larger flowers.
Hellebore in a private garden.
Several factors have limited my collection of Hellebores up to this point in time. First and foremost they tend to be a bit pricy. It is hard to find a Hellebore for under twenty dollars.
The selection available at local nurseries also seems to be very limited. I have never seen any of the nice doubles at my favourite nursery and the only colors they seem to carry are a dirty-pink and a greenish-cream. I have to wonder if the selection is this grim because consumers tend to purchase plants that are in bloom and Hellebores flower long before most gardeners think about spring purchases. To find the really nice Hellebores it seems that you have to resort to mail order companies.
Why go out of your way to track down and purchase somewhat pricy Hellebores?
Hellebores bloom for an extended time from late winter into spring.
Once established, care is fairly minimal.
Their foliage is both attractive and deer resistant.
Hellebore in a private garden.
Some Common Types of Hellebores:
Helleborus niger, the Christmas Rose is possibly the earliest Hellebores to flower.
Hybrid Lenten Rose, Helleborus orientalis offers the widest selection of colors and is the most common kind of Hellebore sold.
Helleborus fortidus has segmented or serrated foliage and prefers a bit more sun than other types of Hellebores. This is a short-lived perennial that will likely to leave seedlings behind.
Hellebores in the Toronto Botanical Garden.
How to plant a Hellebore:
Hellebores are often billed as shade plants, but they actually prefer part-shade. These are plants that herald from the mountainous regions of Central Europe, where the can be found growing on the outer fringes of woodlands. Mimic their natural habitat by planting them on the edge of tree canopies, where they will get sun in spring, and dappled shade in summer when the leaves have filled out.
Plants in nursery pots can be planted in spring or fall. These are long-lived plants, so add some compost to the soil before you backfill the planting hole.
Hellebores prefer soil that is evenly moist. Top dressing with some mulch can help to conserve moisture.
Ongoing Caring:
Orientalis or x hybrid types of Hellebores require a late winter/early spring cleanup. As the snow melts fresh blooms begin to emerge at the centre of a ring of tough, leathery old foliage. Removing these leaves allows the flowers to shine. Fresh new foliage will soon appear. (Exceptions to the rule: Helleborus niger does not like to have its foliage removed. Cut off dead or damaged foliage only as needed. Cut back Hellebore foetidus and H. argutifolius only after new growth breaks at the base of the plant.)
Hellebores grow actively in the spring and fall. In summer, they stop growing while they wait for the temperatures to become cooler. Fertilize in late fall so the plants are well supplied with nutrients when they break dormancy in late winter/early spring.
Unlike many perennials, Hybrid Lenten Rose, Helleborus orientalis don't die back at the centre of the plant requiring division. These are long-lived plants that don't need a gardener's intervention. But if you want to divide a Hellebore, fall is the best time to do it.
There are a few fungal diseases that can effect Hellebores. Often these problems occur with plants that are planted in overly shady, moist soil. Moving the plant may help. It is also a good idea to remove any infected leaves.
On my website there is are links to several mail order companies that carry a nice array of Hellebore plants.
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Looking for more ideas for your garden? Check out this blog post on garden arbors and gates. The link is below.

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  • Hannah V Hannah V on Apr 06, 2016
    Oh so pretty. Your posts are so serene and like a nice little garden escape for me! :)

  • Gerry Gerry on Apr 07, 2016
    Thanks for the info, I now know what I have growing in two of my shade beds. A friend gave me 2 of these around 10 years ago. She got them from in front of her mothers house before it was sold but did not know what they were called.