These Hellebore “ladies” arrive early, stay late

The height of summer might be an odd time to be thinking of winter but that is just what I was doing the other day. Cheryl and I were looking at some of our Hellebores and I was reminded that these plants are among the very first to bloom each year. In many areas, Hellebores are blooming as early as February.
The Hellebore genus is native to Europe and varieties can be found from the Mediterranean region to the northern reaches of Ukraine and into the Caucasus states such as Georgia, Armenia and Southern Russia. Perhaps this diversity explains why many Hellebore varieties feel at home in the varied climates of the United States.
If you are considering adding Hellebores to your own landscape, I will describe four easy-care hybrids that might be perfect for you. But first, let me share some fascinating facts and myths about these intriguing plants.
At first glance, it seems that the Hellebore’s petals remain long after you would have expected them to wither and die back. The reason? They are not petals at all. Each flower has five petal-like sepals that surround a ring of small nectaries that are the “real” petals, secreting nectar that attracts pollinators. The true job of a sepal in nature is to protect a flower in bud. In the case of Hellebores, the sepals themselves remain to become a delightful, and often colorful, feature of the plant.
One variety of Hellebore is nicknamed “The Christmas Rose” even though it is definitely not a member of the rose family and does not bloom at Christmas. Legend has it that it sprouted up through the snow from the tears of a little girl crying because she had no gift for the baby Jesus.
On the other hand, there are folklore tales of witches adding Hellebore to their cauldrons to summon up demons. However, other legends describe Hellebore being used to ward off demons. A versatile plant indeed!
There is evidence that the Ancient Greeks used certain Hellebore varieties for medicinal purposes, often as a purge or an emetic. However, the roots of certain Hellebores can be highly toxic and I strongly advise you not to self-medicate with any Hellebore plants!
Leaving aside tears in the snow, demons, medicines and poisons, Hellebores can certainly be an excellent addition to your landscape, particularly when you want to see some floral color in later winter and early spring.
Hellebore Red Lady This hybrid produces red-maroon sepals in winter that persist into May.
Hellebore Blue Lady This is one of the darkest forms of Hellebore with deep purple-blue flowers that I find breathtaking.
Hellebore Pink Lady If you prefer a more delicate color, the Pink Lady could be for you, with her showy, cup-like sepals in shades of pale pink.
Hellebore Ivory Prince Plant this handsome young fellow alongside one (or more) of the beautiful Ladies. Prince’s creamy-white coloring compliments his showier companions.
All of the hybrids I’ve described here have lush, shiny, evergreen foliage that is very attractive even when not in bloom. Growing to a height of only one to two feet, these Hellebores can make a delightful groundcover forming clumps about two feet wide.
If your landscape includes a raised bed, so much the better as you’ll be able to really appreciate the beauty of their colorful, gently nodding heads.
In a perfect world, these Hellebores would prefer being placed on the edge of a woodland setting with moist loamy soil. To approximate these conditions, plant them in a semi-shaded area in soil that is rich in organic matter. Dig a hole twice as large as the root ball and add some compost or other bulky organic matter before planting the Hellebore.
These deer-resistant hybrids are long-lived and require little or no care once established, but they seem to flower more vigorously when organic matter is added in the spring.
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