Hellebores – A Winter Marvel

This stinking hellebore, Helleborus foetidus, is unfazed by the snow and its flowers are brightly shining despite the cold weather.

For years I heard of the Lenten Rose and wondered if there really was a plant that bloomed during Lent. Indeed there is, the hellebore, Helleborus.

Even though I prefer native and pollinator plants, it is difficult to resist a plant that has so much to offer as hellebores. Hellebores are evergreen and aren’t picky about their sun exposure and soil. I have one in shade, another in part shade and another gets afternoon/evening sun. All of them are in our typical clay and I did not amend the soil prior to planting. Once established, you could say that hellebores are low maintenance plants.

The nodding flowers come in a variety of colors from white to black including pinks, green and purple. The flowers aren’t that great for flower arrangements but they look spectacular floating in a shallow dish of water. It is always a treat to have fresh flowers from the garden from January to March.

The plants are good for borders since they only get 1 to 1-1/2 feet high. The evergreen leaves are somewhat poisonous. It may be this quality that makes them unattractive to deer and rabbits. Pretty much the only hellebore chore is removing dead leaves as the new leaves are emerging in winter. For your safety, wear gloves and keep your hands away from your mouth and eyes.

We are lucky to be so close to a premier hellebore breeding farm, Pine Knot Farm, www.pineknotfarms.com, in Clarksville. The farm is open by appointment only but there is a Hellebore Festival this year on February 19, 20, 26, 27 and March 5, 6, 12, 13, generally coinciding with the Open House Days at Plant Delights in Raleigh. Just a warning, don’t drive into Clarksville and expect to find Pine Knot. It is in that part of Clarksville that you go into North Carolina and come back up into Virginia. I will share a Pine Knot story with you. I went there once and it was an experience. I was in line to have my purchase rung up. The ladies before me had wagons full of plants and their totals were in the range of $375 to $450. I get there and my total is $25. The cashier gave me a strange look and I said that I had come with my husband. That made sense to him.

I feel like I should be writing more but there really is no more to say. Hellebores are that easy. Pick the leaf shape and the color you want, plant them and let them go. If the clump gets too big for your taste, it is best to divide in spring after flowering. However, Allan Armitage in “Herbaceous Perennial Plants” warns that if you divide you won’t get the massive drifts that are breathtaking when in bloom. But as in most things gardening, it is your personal choice. Every plant I have is from a division of a friend’s plant.

While we all are practicing ‘social distancing’ and Halifax County buildings are still closed to the public due to COVID-19, if you have gardening questions, you can reach an Extension Master Gardener or Extension staff member by sending an email to wmccaleb@vt.edu. If you are unable to email, you can call and leave a message at the Halifax Extension Master Gardener Help Desk at (434) 830-3383. Be sure to give us your first and last name, telephone number and the nature of the call. The Help Desk phone is routinely checked. Someone will get back to you, although it may be from a different telephone number. Keep washing your hands, wear your mask, practice ‘social distancing’ and try out some hellebores in your landscape beds.