Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Heavenly Hellebores

Hellebores add an exotic touch to the winter garden. Their elegant flowers begin to emerge in late January, and depending on the variety, will continue to bloom into early spring. The three varieties seen most often in Seattle are: the Lenten Rose (Helleborus orientalis), the bear's-foot, aka "stinking" hellebore (H. foetidus) and the Corsican hellebore (H. argutifolius).

Of the three, this one, the Lenten Rose, is usually the earliest to flower in my garden. Depending on the weather, buds start to emerge in mid- to late January. Mine are in full flower now and the blooms will last until the end of February. After the blooms fade, glossy new foliage will appear. Last year's foliage will die down and can be cut away to tidy up the plant. Perhaps the most common flower color for the Lenten Rose is this pink one, but you can find white, cream, greenish, and deep purple in nurseries. It is best to buy plants in bloom to be sure you get the color you want.

Next to bloom, and also in bloom now, is the so-called "stinking" hellebore. It doesn't really stink at all - unless you crush the flowers or foliage. The creamy, greenish-white flowers are much smaller than those of the Lenten Rose and the green-black foliage is more delicate.

The latest bloomer of the three is the Corsican hellebore. The one in my garden is just beginning to show flower buds. This variety has pale green flowers and light green foliage. The leaves have serrated edges and a coarser appearance than either of the other two varieties. The Corsican hellebore also tolerates more heat and direct sunlight than either of the others.

Hellebores are easy to care for. They are shade plants and will bloom even in deep shade. The Corsican hellebore, as noted, will want a little more sun, although not full exposure. The foliage replaces itself every year; simply cut away the old leaves when they look ratty. I have seen aphids on my plants as the blooms are fading, but they don't seem to harm the plant and they tend to disappear quickly.