Made in the Shade: Sensational Hellebores

By Kerry Ann Mendez

If you're looking for bursts of color starting in late winter from shade-loving plants that are snubbed by deer and rabbits thanks to their toxic evergreen leaves, then welcome Hellebore into your garden. There are many different species of Hellebore, but two of the most commonly sold are Christmas Rose (Heleborus niger) and Lenten Rose (Helleborus orientalis).

Christmas Rose

Christmas Rose are the earliest to bloom. I have seen them pop their sweet little heads up through snow in February - now that's tenacity! Christmas Rose have outward facing flowers that are usually white before aging to shades of pink. They grow between 8-15" tall depending on the cultivar and are hardy in Zones 3-8. Christmas Rose can be slow to get established, but they are worth the wait. Christmas Rose is often sold in mid-winter as an indoor plant since its already in dazzling bloom and can be transplanted outside once the soil warms up.

Lenten Rose

Lenten Rose is the most commonly sold Hellebore at garden centers. There are many flower colors to choose from including red, white, pink, yellow and almost black. Flowers can be downward, upward or outward facing. You can also choose between single petalled varieties or those that look like miniature roses, with multiple layers of petals. Plants are usually between 12" and 24" tall. Given that Hellebore's foliage is evergreen, they can look ratty after coming through winter, especially if weighted down by a lot of snow. I like to prune shabby foliage from stems in late winter (many times I cut the entire plant to the ground) so there is no distraction from the glorious flowers. Lenten Rose ranges in hardiness from Zones 3 to 8, depending on the cultivar.

We'll have a great selection of Hellebores this year at Estabrook's. The best time to shop for these delightful plants is in the spring when they are in their full glory - we hope to see you soon!

Kerry Ann Mendez KERRY ANN MENDEZ is an award-winning garden educator, author and design consultant based in southern Maine. Her latest book is The Budget-Wise Gardener.

You'll now find her at our Yarmouth store consulting on garden design, conducting workshops, answering your gardening questions and much more.