Is it just me or is everyone obsessed with hellebores these days? Maybe it’s just like when you are pregnant, you see pregnant women everywhere. Anyway, hellebores are becoming more and more popular with floral designers and gardeners. And it’s no wonder: They are one of the few plants to bloom in winter. They are easy to grow, even for the beginner. Blooming from late winter to early spring, the flowers last a long time. Hellebores come in many different muted colours, with speckles or veins or picotee edges. There are hellebores with single and double flowers. You have so many to choose from, and they are beautiful.
I believe that part of the appeal of hellebores is that they come in so many colours, forms and varieties. I am a collector, and I’m not the only one. Some gardeners collect snowdrops (there is even a word for them: galanthophile!) and pay hundreds of euros for one snowdrop bulb. Luckily, even though hellebores are not cheap, they are not that expensive. So I can add one or two varieties to my growing collection each year. This year, I bought Helleborus ‘Cerise’ and an unnamed variety. Cerise is a beautiful double hellebore with dusky red flowers. The unnamed hellebore has green-pink bicolour flowers and marbled leaves.
There are so many to choose from, I love them all! But as always, some hellebores are more special than others, I will come to that later. There are the species, like Helleborus niger and Helleborus argutifolius, and there are the hybrids. In the Netherlands, hybrids are often called Helleborus orientalis, but the correct scientific name is Helleborus x hybridus followed by the name of the variety. For example Helleborus x hybridus ‘Tutu’.
Hellebores are easy to crossbreed and I think that’s another reason why they are so popular. Every nurseryman and gardener can create their own variety. Many nurseries sell hellebores raised from seed simply called ‘white speckled’ or ‘apricot double’. So to get what you want, buy when the plant is in bloom.
Helleborus niger (Christmas rose)
Helleborus niger is probably the best-known hellebores of all. This species produces pure white flowers on short green stems. Although it is commonly known as the Christmas rose, it doesn’t flower in the garden at Christmas, at least not in my area. It can, of course, be forced into bloom earlier by growing them inside. You will find lots of plants already covered in buds and flowers in garden centres around Christmas time. These cheap plants usually don’t survive in the garden. Or should I say: don’t survive in my garden 😉 As you might have guessed, not really a favourite of mine.
Helleborus argutifolius (Corsican hellebore)
Can you imagine before we bought this house, I had never heard of hellebores?When we moved here there were already four Helleborus argutifolius in the front garden. They grow in a shady part of the garden, under a large oak tree and some holly trees. This species has dark green, leathery leaves and bright green, cup-shaped flowers (or as Erin Benzakein calls it in her new book: chartreuse!). They really light up the garden on a dark winter day.
Helleborus argutifolius is native to Corsica and Sardinia. Despite its Mediterranean origin, it is very winter-hardy. They bloom heavily for weeks and are low-maintenance, what more could a gardener want!
They are also excellent cut flowers. But I love them so much, I do not want to cut them to bring into the house. These are not cut and come flowers you know! Luckily you can also buy them at the flower market. The hellebores I used in my spring floral arrangement came from the market as well.
Helleborus hybridus are becoming more and more popular each year. There is so much variation in colours and forms, from yellow to nearly black, from cup-shaped single flowers to ruffled doubles. When singles are crossed with doubles, you could get a so-called anemone-flowered hellebore. These have a central ring of small, frilly petals, like a ballerina’s tutu. Apparently, the anemone-flowered hellebores are the most difficult to breed. And I have one in my garden, yeah! It is actually called ‘Tutu’.
The hellebore days organised by nurseries are equally popular. My mum and I visited a hellebore day two weeks ago. It was a fun day out. We were a bit late, and most plants had already been sold. My mum was looking to buy a hellebore with marbled leaves like my Helleborus ‘Anna’s Red’. I bought ‘Anna’s Red’ last year from the same plantsman. I planted it in a sunny spot in the back garden. It is healthy and beautiful.
‘Anna’s Red’ comes from the Rodney Davey breeding program. It has deep red flowers on deep red stems and coloured marbled foliage. Because of the marbled foliage, I think my new, unnamed hellebore belongs to the Rodney Davey group as well. Maybe it’s ‘Dana’s Dulcet’?
The hellebore days are over, but if you haven’t bought any yet, you can probably still find them at the garden centre. Let me know if you find an especially beautiful variety.