Do you have a shady spot in need of four-season (almost completely) green foliage and long-lived, interesting blossoms? You are invited to explore the diverse genus Helleborus, of which there are approximately 15 species.
Most varieties grow into sturdy, perennial “clumps” ranging from 12 to 24 inches tall, depending upon the strain and/or variety. They are tolerant of heat and humidity, can withstand periods of drought, if situated in moisture-retentive, well-drained soil, and can even thrive in clay. Good news: The plant is deer and disease resistant.
The Helleborus is a plant for the shade. It grows well in conditions ranging from part sun to full shade. One special requirement is that the plants would like to receive fresh compost each year, which supplies necessary nutrients. You will enjoy its interesting, dark green foliage. In fact, the leaves remain green throughout much of the winter. Generally, in late winter or very early spring, one should cut off the old leaves, making way for the new growth. Otherwise, the leaves provide shelter for the plant during periods of winter snow.
In my opinion, the most wonderful attraction of this plant is its flowers. They bloom very early in the spring and stay fresh for months in the garden and weeks in a vase. Bloom color can range greatly, resulting in cream, green, pink, maroon, and yellow flowers, many of which are speckled. The bloom size is approximately 2 to 3 inches in diameter. Most flowers face slightly downward, and there are a few new varieties that bear double blossoms.
As is the case with many perennials, getting the plants established might offer a challenge. However, so far in my garden areas, I’ve had only to contend with the loss of one plant, and that was shortly after it was set in the ground. I planted several more varieties a year ago, so once spring arrives, I’ll see how I’ve fared with these new garden additions.
Perhaps you’d like to know about plant propagation. You can gather and sow seeds, and you might find that the plant has done it for you when tiny “baby” plants appear next to the parent plant. Tiny seedlings give you the chance to relocate plants in other spots in your yard or garden, and to share with gardening friends! You might take note that not always will the blossoms of plants grown from seed mimic those of the parent plants.
Although I’ve not done this, I have read that a plant can be divided. Care must be taken that a large root is maintained for each separate portion. This method would result in multiple plants of the same variety.
If you have shady spots that could use something different and interesting, I’d recommend your looking into these beautiful, hardy, low maintenance, disease- and pest-free perennials!
Kathy Tollenaere is a Master Gardener.