Fascinating and elegant, the Hellebore is one of the earliest flowers of late winter. They are also known as the Christmas Rose or the Lenten Rose, although they are not even remotely related to roses. Hellbores emerge any time between January and May, sometimes even before the Snow Drops and crocus. They frequently poke up through the snow, quietly reminding us that spring will come and there is magic ahead, just when we think winter will never end.
This native of the mountains of central and southern Europe, and China, needs to be gown in a shady spot, in moist soil, amended with lots of organic material to hold moisture. The flowers have five or more petal-like sepals surrounding a ring of small, cup-like nectaries which are actually petals modified to hold nectar. But don't let the delicate beauty of these plants fool you. They are deer, rabbit, snail and all kind of nasty weather proof! They are tough ladies!
Bees love them, of course, and the Hellebore provide much needed food for the earliest pollinators. They cross pollinate and reproduce by seed easily and readily, producing new surprising color combinations every year! They come in many colors, ranging from white, to green, yellow, pink, rose, red, lavender, purple, mauve, burgundy, blue and almost black. They come speckled and striped, ombre and picotee; and single, double and anemone types. However, the colors of the cross pollinated new plants from seed tend become a little "muddy" in color over time, so it's best to introduce new, brighter colors every few years to revitalize your collection. Just remove any colors that aren't to your liking. The individual flowers are remarkably long lasting on the plant.. The tough sepals protect the developing seed pods, they retain their color for a long time, and never fall off.
For the best viewing in the garden, grow them on a slope, a large shaded window box or retaining wall. Their "nodding" habit makes it difficult to see the beauty within, without getting on your hands and knees.
They make nice, if unpredictable, cut flowers, as well. It seems to depend on the plant. Probably the best way to display them is to float just the flower heads in a shallow bowl. If you want to use them with stems, you must wait for them to be pollinated and start to produce tiny seed pods, otherwise the stems will just flop. Once the stem is cut, sear the ends in boiling water for 30 seconds before arranging them. This will make the stems more turgid and prolong their vase life. Some varieties will last longer than others, but they can last up to seven days in a vase.
In the fall, trim back the tall, coarse leaves and stems. Leave any small fresh leaves that are close to the ground. Tuck them to bed with a layer of fallen tree leaves, topped with compost or wood chips to mimic a forest floor. Given the right conditions, Hellebores are easy and fun to grow. They will reward you for years to come with the promise of spring right around the corner, just when you need it most.
Valmont Valley Farm
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