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 among 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.
There are 17 Hellebore species. Most are native to the mountainous regions of Europe, especially the Balkan region of the former Yugoslavia, south along the eastern Adriatic to Greece and Turkey. Many of the species have been interbred, producing countless hybrid Hellebores in a rich array of colors and forms. Find the four Hellebore varieties that are the most popular and easiest to grow.
Helleborus argutifolius (Corsican Hellebore)
A robust native of Corsica and Sardinia, Helleborus argutifolius (Corsican Hellebore) is an evergreen perennial with large open clusters of up to thirty, large, nodding, pale green flowers with a central boss of equally green stamens. Blooming heavily from late winter to early summer, these charming beauties rise on sturdy, thick stems clad with large blue-green leaves divided into three sharply toothed leaflets.
Helleborus foetidus (Stinking Hellebore)
Unjustly named Stinking Hellebore,Helleborus foetidus provides gardeners with some of the greatest pleasures in winter. This evergreen perennial features large, open clusters of cheerful chartreuse, bell-shaped flowers, edged with dark red. The buds begin to appear in early winter and provide interest as they open slowly over the next three months. Blooming profusely from late winter to mid spring, the flowers rise on sturdy, erect stems above a handsome foliage of leathery, narrow, fan-like (palmately divided), dark green leaves.
Helleborus niger (Christmas Rose)
Native to the mountains of southern and central Europe, Helleborus niger, commonly called Christmas Rose, is a winter-blooming evergreen perennial with large, bowl-shaped, glistening white flowers, 3 in. across (8 cm), adorned with a crown of showy golden-yellow stamens. The sepals slowly fade to green or rosy-pink as they mature. Unlike most hellebores, the flowers face outward attracting interest. The attractive blooms are borne on short, thick stems and generally do not rise above the foliage of palmate, deeply-lobed, dark green leaves. Christmas Roses open around Christmas time in warm winter areas, and in early spring in cooler winter regions. Helleborus niger is also a very popular cut flower!
Helleborus orientalis (Lenten Roses)
Helleborus orientalis, commonly called Lenten Rose because it blooms during Lent, is native to the dry climates of Greece and Turkey. It is claimed to be the most colorful and floriferous species in the genus. Mature plants often have 50 or more flowers per plant, which last up to 2 months! The large flowers come in many colors from a creamy white to a dusky plum. They nod gracefully and dangle with poise from the stalks well above the foliage. They are widely available today in a terrific range of sizes, leaf shapes, and flower forms (single semi-double, full double, anemone) and colors (white through pink, purple to yellow, with our without picotee, spots and freckles), giving Helleborus orientalis and its hybrids preeminent status among Hellebores.
Rather than let these charming beauties lonesomely bloom in a bare patch, give them companion plants and layer your plantings for maximum drama. Learn how to extend the season of interest of your borders.