Hellebores: Early Spring Bloomers

Helleborus orientalis is also called Lenten Rose. In horticulture circles it’s well known that you can’t rely on common names to reveal the true identity of a plant. Hellebores send a mixed signal because they are not in the rose family, but they do bloom during the Lenten season. In our part of the country that makes them early spring bloomers!

Hellebores are a herbaceous perennial meaning their soft stems die back in winter but come back in spring. Their leaves are considered evergreen, though they can get pretty tattered looking over time. It’s advised that you cut last year’s leaves off in the early spring to make way for fresh growth and to give the flower buds a little more exposure to the sun.

Hellebores grow in woodland settings, where they self seed, but they’re also right at home in the garden bed. Plant them near your front walkway so you can enjoy their pretty blossoms as you walk to and from your front door-- even before it’s warm enough to start spending time in the yard.

Hellebores are not really a mass market plant in the US, but they’re growing in popularity. They’re available at quality garden centers such as Claire’s in Patterson, where they offer a variety called ‘Candy Love’. They’re also available via mail order through bulb catalogs.

Last year we planted 30-40 helleborus orientalis in the garden bed between our driveway and our house. I look forward to walking past them this spring when they are in bloom. The buds are already pushing through the soil.

Helleborus niger is another species, known as Christmas Rose. They bloom even earlier than Helleborus orientalis and are considered a little more difficult to grow, so I’m sticking with the orientalis.

Hellebore flowers are described as ‘nodding’ and that’s part of their charm. To look at the delicate center of the flower you literally need to lift it up towards your face. I’ve read that some gardeners will plant them on a hillside so that the viewer is looking up at them from below. Some newer varieties are being bred to stand more upright.

Hellebores are extremely popular in England and, like snowdrops, are synonymous with springtime!

Dorian Winslow is the owner of Womanswork, Pawling NY, (Womanswork.com). Email your gardening questions and comments to DWinslow@Womanswork.com

Hellebores in a vase.