Written by Tolly Beck
Tolly Beck is the horticulturist at Lasdon Park and Arboretum in Westchester County. She was formerly a horticulture educator for New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rockland, NY.
In the Spotlight
Hellebores are evergreen perennials that bloom in late winter to early spring. They are referred to as evergreen because they maintain their foliage all winter long. They are hardy to zone 4, so do well in our area, in spite of cold weather and snow.
The most popular hellebores are the oriental hybrids (Helleborous x hybridus), commonly referred to as Lenten Roses. The name is appropriate given that their long bloom time occurs during Lent and the fact that their flowers resemble a single petaled, old-fashioned rose. The nodding flowers are 2” across and can be found in colors ranging from white, green, pink, and purple. Hellebore flowers may also have petals that are spotted with purple.
Hellebores range in height from 12- 18” and grow best in a well-drained soil that contains plenty of organic matter. They do well in shade and combine beautifully with shrubs as well as other shade loving perennials. At Lasdon we have hellebores planted along a shaded path, just past the heather garden and alongside the Veterans Museum.
Hellebores contain a toxic substance that can cause abdominal pain if eaten. Because of this, hellebores are not usually browsed by deer. This is a definite plus for anyone who has a deer problem and has landscape plants that are routinely eaten by them. In addition to being deer resistant, hellebores are low maintenance perennials. If hellebore foliage looks unsightly after going through a difficult winter, simply cut the foliage back to within a few inches of the ground. The flowers will still come up, with the appearance of a beautiful bouquet, and fresh foliage will grow as spring goes into summer.
Consider adding hellebores to your shade or woodland garden this year. If you do, next winter will show off the hellebores glossy, evergreen foliage and late winter to early spring will provide you with a display of colorful flowers. Hellebores are well worth the wait.