COMPLEAT HOME GARDENER: Hellebores make winter gardening exciting

The second week of January is early spring! There are signs of hope outside for gardeners willing to look closely. Snowdrop bulbs and crocus are either just pushing out of the soil or waiting patiently under the surface. Buds on early-flowering branches are ready for snipping, bringing indoors and forcing into bloom. Plus, the days are getting longer – it’s time to celebrate all the winter-blooming beauties that make the Pacific Northwest a great place for year-round gardening.

Wake up Winter with Hellebores: The Alarm Clocks of Spring

There’s a new collection of hellebores, a heavenly plant, now newly-improved

Sometimes you can fight Mother Nature. Hellebores are tough perennials that not only return year after year in western Washington gardens but also reseed on their own, thrive in our dry summers and wet winters and, most important of all, hellebores are slug- and deer-resistant plants. (OK, one winter the buds were eaten off one of my Corsican hellebores, but that was just a browsing deer taste-testing as it walked around the garden.)

The new hellebores are from local grower Skagit Gardens, which will be providing the Gold Collection of Hellebores to many local retail nurseries.

Alert shoppers may have noticed that December-blooming hellebores have been popping up in florist shops and at nurseries the past month as gift plants for the holidays. Watch out poinsettias, the giving of hellebores, also called The Christmas Rose, is poised for a market share takeover.

If someone gave you a potted hellebore for the home or office, it is time to get your holiday plant outdoors where it can live long and prosper.

If nobody has yet gifted you with a winter blooming hellebore, it is time to visit the nursery and snatch up these new varieties before they sell out.

So what makes these new Hellebores in the Gold Collection so special?

No. 1: Large, forward-facing flowers.

For centuries, garden hellebores turned their pretty faces shyly toward the ground. Now things are looking up. This means you can enjoy the open blooms in the garden or, better yet, planted into containers near your front door. Gardeners no longer need to cut and float the exotic blooms in bowls of water or hold a mirror beneath the dangling blooms to see the power of the petals.

No. 2: First Year Flowering Plants

Old-style hellebores were slow to mature and patience was the name of the game as years could go by waiting for hellebores to bloom. The Gold Collection of hellebores have set the gold standard for first year flowering plants.

No. 3: New colors, earlier bloom times, more blooms

The pure white blooms of the new hellebore called Josef Lemper (named after a dedicated plant breeder) is my personal favorite as the white flowers shine on cold winter days, plus this Gold Collection winner blooms in December, January and even part of February.

The Gold Collection also includes hellebores with more unusual flower colors. There are rose and cinnamon shades appearing in Cinnamon Snow and burgundy and white buds that open to soft pink on Pink Frost.

If you still don’t know if these new hellebores are worth the investment (like most new varieties they can be pricey) consider that hellebores have healthy, evergreen foliage, stay compact and bushy, are less than 2 feet tall and can carpet the ground in just a few years to become a winter-blooming groundcover. A collection of hellebores may make you reconsider that winter vacation home in Arizona. Hellebores bloom in shade or part-shade and thrive under dogwood trees, rhododendrons and other spring-blooming trees and shrubs.

When to plant and what to plant with Hellebores

January is a great time to buy hellebores but cold winter weather may make digging in to plant them outdoors inconvenient. The answer is to pop your new hellebores into the empty container gardens near the front door. A protected spot will help the new plants adjust to outdoor conditions. Add some winter-blooming heathers and early-flowering bulbs of snow drops or crocus. Once the ground thaws you can find a spot in the garden for these perky perennials and you’ll be able to look forward to winter blooms for years to come.

If you want to enjoy hellebores indoors as cut flowers remember only fully opened and mature blooms will last as cut flowers without the instant wilt. You can also float open blooms in a bowl of water. Floating hellebores make a simple table centerpiece that won’t block cross-table conversation. Or to really surprise your guests, float a few hellebore blooms in your toilet bowl.

Whoever thought winter gardening wasn’t exciting never grew hellebores.

Copyright for this

column owned by

Marianne Binetti.

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