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It’s the season for Hellebores in Middle Tennessee again!

February 1, 2013 by

Few perennials rival the seasonal interest of Hellebores, often called Christmas Rose or Lenten Rose.

These staples of the winter garden are among the most coveted of plants by those in the know. Outside plant enthusiast circles, Hellebores remain relatively unknown because they don’t flower quickly from seed and often finish flowering before most folks visit garden centers in early spring.

Hellebores have long been grown in gardens, originally for their medicinal properties. Hellebores are filled with alkaloid toxins and have been used both as a poison and a purgative. The toxicity makes them ideal “deer resistant” garden options for areas, like much of Nashville, that see deer and other wildlife.

In Tennessee, many species crosses and hybrid varieties available are available but I will focus on the most common. The easiest Helleborus for us to grow are the orientalis hybrids.

The flower colors of Helleborus x hybridus enthrall plant collectors, as each one is dramatically different. The colors range from black-purple to red-purple, to white, pink, and even yellow …. all depending on the parentage of the species. Patterns on the blooms add even more fun, with breeders coaxing different colored speckles both to flower the center and edge.

Hellebore breeders also work on flower shape. Some opt for cupped flowers, while others work towards breeding large, flat, open flowers. Some breeders prefer up-facing flowers, while others prefer the natural bell-like form, where the colors are seen only on the back of the flowers. The latest creations are double flowered and anemone-flowered forms, where a second row of petals makes an attractive collar inside the large calyx.

Very few landscapes don’t have a good location for a few single Hellebores or even a mass planting. I really enjoy creating an evergreen groundcover under a low-branched ornamental tree where it’s often almost impossible to grow grass. Rather than fight the shade and thirsty tree roots, just mass these beautiful perennials and let them take over on their own.

So, next time you’re out strolling through your yard, keep an eye out for a nice, shady spot for this tough, winter-blooming perennial.

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