Prized for their abundant winter or early spring blooms and attractive foliage, Hellebores (Helleborus) are invaluable additions to the shade garden and provide gardeners with some of the greatest pleasures in winter. Ranked by some as amongst the top 10 high-performance perennials, these harbingers of spring are tough, cold-hardy, deer or rabbit resistant and easy to grow perennials. Most Hellebores enjoy an evergreen foliage which remains handsome year-round and provides multiseason interest.
- The most popular Hellebore varieties are the Lenten Roses (Helleborus x hybridus or Helleborus orientalis) which are hardy to USDA 4-9 and available in a rich array of colors including pink, purple, red, white, green, apricot and yellow.
- Flowering a month or so earlier are the Christmas Roses (Helleborus niger) which are hardy to USDA 3-8 and display pristine white to pink-tinged white blossoms.
- 2 taller Hellebore varieties are worth mentioning: Corsican Hellebore (Helleborus argutifolius) with large clusters of pale green flowers contrasting with the large blue-green divided foliage (USDA 6-9); and the unjustly named Stinking Hellebore (Helleborus foetidus) with long-lasting clusters of cheerful chartreuse, bell-shaped flowers, edged with dark red and rising above a lovely fan-like foliage (USDA 5-9). Both varieties have received the prestigious Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society.
But rather than let these charming beauties bloom lonesomely in a bare patch, give them companion plants and layer your plantings for maximum drama. This is particularly important among Lenten roses that lack foliage of their own when in bloom. Hellebores make perfect partners with other plants and help create strikingly beautiful combinations in the garden.
Extend the season of interest of your mixed border
Surrounding your Hellebores with a succession of flowers and evergreen plants will reinforce the beauty of their blooms and foliage and extend the season of interest of your mixed border.
- Start with low-growing spring bulbs such as Galanthus (Snowdrop), Crocus, Muscari (Grape Hyacinth), Scilla (Squill), Anemone blanda (Grecian Windflower), Eranthis hyemalis (Winter Aconite) and Narcissi (Daffodil). They will create a flowering carpet and provide eye-catching color to your garden at a time when it is still dormant.
- Other spring bloomers that will punch up the show are Phlox divaricata (Woodland Phlox), Trillium (Wake Robin), Erythronium (Trout Lilies), Corydalis, Primula (Primrose), Hepaticas, Pulmonarias and Epimediums.
- Add foliage plants such as Asarum europaeum (European Wild Ginger), Ferns with their graceful fronds, Hostas with their smooth leaves, Dicentra with their ferny foliage (Bleeding Heart), Carex (Sedges) and Polygonatum (Solomons' Seal) to carry the summer display.
- Interplant Cyclamen, Colchicum (Fall Crocus), Sternbergia, Lycoris (Spider Lily), Tricyrtis (Toad Lily), Asters, Actaea (Baneberry) to enjoy a lovely fall display and create a powerful statement.
- Complement with the colorful fruits of Viburnums, Callicarpa (Beauty Berries) and other hollies to add light and interest to the fall and winter landscape.
Combine texture, color, and form to create rich harmonies
Hellebores are rounded to mounded plants. Therefore, their companion plants need to feature contrasting forms in order to add gravitas to the ensemble.
- Spiky companions: Introducing spiky companions will provide visual variety against the blooms or your Hellebores. Try Tricyrtis (Toad Lily), Actaea (Baneberry), Polygonatum (Solomons'Seal). Underplanting your Cornus sericea (Red Osier Dogwood), Cornus alba (Tatarian Dogwood) or Betula (Birch) with Hellebores and flower bulbs will create more emotion in winter than a solitary Dogwood or a lonely Hellebore.
- Flat and ground-hugging companions: Adding an important dimension to the beds and borders, they set off the dramatic qualities of your Hellebores. Consider Lamium maculatum (Spotted Deadnettle), Sedum ternatum (Woodland Sedum), Asarum europaeum (European Wild Ginger).
- Blue and purple companions: Because of the colors Hellebores generally possess, cool blue and purple-flowering perennial plants make favorite neighbors. Among them are Scilla siberica (Siberian Squill), Pulmonarias, Cyclamen, Chionodoxa (Glory of the Snow), Crocus tommasinianus, Muscari (Grape Hyacinth), Viola odorata (sweet Violet), Myosotis (Forget-Me-Not), Brunnera macrophylla (Siberian Bugloss).
- Silver and gray companions: Plants with gray foliage, such as Athyrium niponicum var. pictum or Athyrium niponicum 'Silver Falls' (Painted Lady Fern) or Pulmonaria 'Silver Shimmers' can accent the beauty of your Hellebores effectively.
- Gold companions: Early blooming daffodils such as Cyclamineus narcissi ('February Gold', 'Tete a Tete', 'Jetfire'), Crocus x luteus, Eranthis hyemalis (Winter Aconite), Primula veris (Cowslip), Euonymus fortunei 'Emerald'n Gold (Wintercreeper), ornamental grasses with bright golden foliage such as Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola' (Hakone Grass) and Dicentra spectabilis 'Gold Heart' (Bleeding Heart) will add further drama in the garden if planted around your Hellebores.
Hellebore Cultural Requirements
There is a wide range of companion plants that will bring out the best qualities of your Hellebores and share their space with a serene balance. Make sure you select any ornamental grasses, perennials, annuals or shrubs that have the same growing requirements as your Hellebores.
- Hellebores grow in sun or shade. The more sun Hellebores receive, particularly in spring when the foliage is developing, the fuller the plants will grow and the more profuse they will bloom. Light or partial shade is best for most Hellebore varieties.
- Hellebores thrive in neutral to alkaline soils that are moist but well-drained, fertile and humus-rich.