Diggin' In: Consider winter-blooming Hellebores

March 10, 2014
A double green Hellebore features shades of dark reds

While many branches are bare and most soil is frozen, you’ll enjoy signs of spring when you plant winter-blooming Hellebores.

"My Hellebore garden is right outside my back door, a 20-foot round bed beneath the largest tulip magnolia tree many have ever seen," says Lisa Ziegler of her southeastern Virginia home.

"As this garden comes to life each January, breaking through ice and snow into freezing temperatures, I am reminded that anything is possible in a garden. The Hellebore blooming season has become my annual sabbatical you might say as preparation of the coming season of cut-flower farming."

Now and during the next few weeks, you’ll see pots of Hellebores, cold hardy in Zones 4-8, appearing at garden centers as plant trucks roll in and planting season swings into high gear.

"There are so many new varieties coming out with strong color selections and doubles," says Bill Kidd, vice president of merchandising at McDonald Garden Center — in Hampton, Va.

Bill particularly likes the Winter Jewels Series with offerings like Amber Gem with yellow-infused blooms that blush with red and Amethyst Gem with amethyst-red double flowers.

Also in Hampton, Countryside Gardens specializes in Hellebore varieties with upright flowers with names like Red Lady, White Spotted and Blue Metallic.  She also likes the new Peppermint Ruffles and Sunshine Ruffles with layered-like petals.

"Hellebores make an excellent alternative to hosta since they are evergreen," says Tish Llaneza, owner of Countryside Gardens at 220 E. Mercury Blvd. —



Pine Knot Farms in Clarksville, Va., is all about Hellebores — 60 acres of woodland and 10 acres of garden and nursery, all devoted to the winter-blooming beauty.  In March, the farm annually holds Hellebores Festivals on specified weekends — or 434-252-1990.

"First-time visitors tend to be amazed at the many thousands of plants in bloom in the sales houses as well as the many, many interesting things in the display gardens," says Judith Knott Tyler, who owns the farm with husband Richard.

The couple got their first Hellebore plants in 1983 from a Georgia grower who had found plants around older homes in the Atlanta area; they became serious breeders in 1995 after an earlier trip to the United Kingdom where they marveled at the quality of the plants.

There are many ways to use Hellebores, according to Judith — the most popular uses include container plants on the deck or by the door and as ground cover in a woodland area.

Her favorites include a pure white single, as well as two new clones from Europe — a red called Anna’s Red and a pink known as Penny’s Pink.

"Flower color is very personal," she says.

"I like the purity of the white flowers because they show up really well in the garden.  I like Shooting Star for the way the blooms age and, of course, we love Raulston Remembered because it was bred here and named for Dr. J.C. Raulston who started the arboretum at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C., and was a plantsman extraordinaire."



At her fresh-cut flower farm in Newport News, Va., Lisa Ziegler cuts stems of Hellebores to include in garden-style bouquets she fashions and sells at local farmers markets and through the Fresh Market and Harris Teeter stores in Hampton Roads, Va.  She provides assorted flowers to florists, and you can pick up bouquets or subscribe to a bouquet drop-off service.

"As fresh-cut flowers, Hellebores can last for a couple weeks or more cut," she says.

"We use fresh flower food in the vase to keep the stems and water as fresh as possible.

"The beauty of Hellebores are many — they are evergreen, deer resistant, grow in deep shade, drought tolerant and grow at the base of large greedy trees that seem to suck the lift out of other plants."

Learn more about Lisa’s fresh-cut flowers and gardening supplies through The Gardener’s Workshop at



Hellebores is an "amazing plant" in the garden, according to Eric Bailey of Landscapes by Eric Bailey in Yorktown, Va. —

"They thrive in woodland locations, but can also handle a decent amount of sun as long as it is not a hot spot," he says.

"The only maintenance they require is a good clean up after the winter. The old fashioned varieties re-seed very nicely. Many of the new varieties such as Ice Breaker, Pink Frost and others are sterile though and do not reseed themselves."

In Williamsburg, Va., landscape designer Peggy Krapf favors the "stinking hellebores," or Helleborus foetidus. 

"Why they are called that I do not know because they have a light scent  — but certainly not stinking," says Peggy, owner of Heart’s Ease Landscape & Garden Design,

"The flowers are a spring green, almost chartreuse, and they grow taller than most other Hellebores with many cup-shaped flowers on a single stem and narrower leaves. These seem to reproduce most happily in my garden.  I find hundreds of babies popping up under the older foliage in early spring. I love them in a cut-flower arrangement, and usually have an antique soup tureen filled on my dining room table January through March.

In landscape jobs, Peggy often uses Hellebores underneath the canopy of crape myrtle trees with ferns, arum, Spanish bluebells and shredded leaf mulch.

"I have some white-flowering ones that I picked up years ago from a big box store and they actually seem happier and more prolific that some of the expensive named varieties I have purchased," she says.



McClatchy-Tribune Information Services