By JO ERBSKORN
This past Sunday I was sitting in coffee hour after our church service chatting about all the things women chat about—clothes shopping, food and gardening. Karen Kast and I were talking about hellebores. She said she’d never heard of them and wasn’t familiar with them. She said “ you should write about them” and I told her I would this week, so here’s to you Karen.
Hellebores are one of my favorite flowers. They are also known as Lenten roses. I have two beds of them now as I restarted one last year that was ruined a few years back unfortunately. The one I restarted had to be brought back. It was so fragrant and beautiful in the spring that I missed it.
The first thing I will tell you is that hellebores are up earlier than even crocuses. They are the harbingers of spring in my garden and a very welcome sight. Hellebores show up at the tail end of winter and take whatever Mother Nature dishes out. Frost or a late snow storm are no problem. They may be flat to the ground, but as soon as the first rays of sun come out they stand up, raising their fragile looking heads.
I love any plant that basically tells winter your days are numbered. These flowers last a long time, also. Unlike their namesake, roses, they bloom from March to May. Last year mine, in the back of our house where they are protected, were still blooming in June. They do well in shade or partial sun, some even tolerate full sun. I have found them to not be fussy at all on the amount of sunlight they get.
The most popular and easiest to grow are the Oriental hybrid hellebores, good in zones 6-9. They like to spread, but not in an invasive manner. They are “clumpers” that slowly spread into whatever area they are allotted. There are many different colors of hellebores, even a deep purple so dark it looks black. I have white ones and a variety that is pink in the center with yellow brackets and the pink fades to a gentle sage green.
Their soil preference is slightly neutral to mildly acidic. They do not like excessively wet soil as it tends to rot their roots. To plant hellebores, the crown should be just barely covered. Don’t plant them too deeply. Just like peonies, they will not produce many flowers if they are planted too deep. To care for them, apply a nice layer of well-rotted manure or compost once a year. To assist them in being showy and spreading out, remove the previous year’s dead foliage. Do not compost the removed foliage; throw it in the trash as this plant takes more than a year to break down.
As far as pests go, nothing really seems to bother them including deer. I will tell you dog urine will kill them though.
To take starts of established plants, dig up the clump as one and take your hands and break them apart. Replant what you want and share the rest. That brings me to the only real problem with this plant—cost. Hellebores are very expensive. The most economical way to start hellebores is to take a start from a friend, but this is not always easy as not many people I know have them. If you decide to try growing hellebores, purchase them online; it is the easiest way I know of to get a good selection. There are a lot of colors to choose from.
Hellebores are nature’s gifts after a long cold winter. If you are feeling adventurous, give them a try.