Hellebore “Shooting Star” features blush burgundy flowers. They bloom from late autumn to early spring. (Nicole Phillips)

Hellebore “Shooting Star” features blush burgundy flowers. They bloom from late autumn to early spring. (Nicole Phillips)

Chase the winter blues away with winter-blooming hellebores

These gorgeous flowering perennials are a joy to see in the garden during the colder months.

When it comes to picking perennials, it’s a good idea to check in with the Perennial Plant Association.

Among other things, the association promotes one perennial per year by declaring it the Perennial Plant of the Year.

These are not new plants but rather tried-and-true varieties that are guaranteed to be easy to grow, as well as disease and pest resistant. Back in 2005, the Perennial Plant Assocation named a shade-loving perennial known as Helleborus x hybridis as Plant of the Year.

Now 14 years later, hellebores have grown in popularity to the point that gardeners today have a plethora of varieties to choose from.

Hellebores are the consummate winter interest plant for our Northwest gardens — you can find them for sale this time of year in most garden centers. Here’s a bit more information about this wonderful genus.

“Vavavoom Pink” variety is a stunning new compact grower. (Nicole Phillips)

“Vavavoom Pink” variety is a stunning new compact grower. (Nicole Phillips)

Hellebores are commonly known as Christmas or Lenten roses. They, of course, don’t have much to do with actual roses — but the flowers do resemble a single wild rose. Many varieties bloom from Christmas to Easter and, therefore, are associated with this time of the year. I have multiple varieties in my garden that are in bloom as we speak.

Generally speaking, hellebores are mostly evergreen perennials that grow in shade or light shade, are not bothered by slugs, do not need dividing constantly, are drought tolerant (once established) and bloom in the winter. What’s not to like about that?

“Rosemary” hellebore is an upright grower. Its flowers bloom from winter through early spring. (Nicole Phillips)

“Rosemary” hellebore is an upright grower. Its flowers bloom from winter through early spring. (Nicole Phillips)

They are great companions for ferns, astilbes, hostas and a whole host of shade-loving plants. Their ease of care and winter-blooming habit makes them a good choice for the casual as well as the avid gardener. Here are some varieties to look for now:

Christmas rose: The traditional plant is short at about 1 foot tall, with mostly white flowers that nod down to the ground. All hellebore flowers last for months, but lose their color after several weeks, and turn green for the rest of the time. You can always cut them off at that point, if you don’t like them.

In 2014, a new hybrid of the Christmas rose was introduced called “Ivory Prince,” which held its flowers upright and outward so you didn’t have to stand on you head to enjoy them. Since then, dozens of hybrids with bigger, more colorful (pinks to deep reds) flowers and foliage patterns (mottled or variegated) have been introduced, adding more visual interest to our winter gardens.

Oriental hellebore: Also known as Lenten rose, this hellebore blooms just after the Christmas rose, is taller (about 18 to 24 inches) and comes in many more colors. There are multiple new strains that have been introduced in the last 10 years that will blow your socks off, with colors ranging from yellows and apricots to dark smoky purple (almost black). Many have freckling on their petals, and some are ruffled. More recently, double ones have come on the market that are to die for.

Stinking hellebore: This is a very attractive evergreen perennial that blooms with apple-green flowers in February and March. The fragrance isn’t anything to write home about — hence the name — but the foliage is wonderful. I have a golden foliaged one called “Gold Bullion” that is quite showy.

Corsican hellebore: This hellebore is a still larger variety that can get up to 3- to 4-feet tall and blooms in late March, again with greenish flowers atop 3 foot stems. I have one under my birch tree that performs like clockwork every year. It is also slightly more sun and drought tolerant than the above varieties. For an exotic look, try one of the varieties with stunning mottled cream foliage. This time of year, the new growth is spectacular.

Needless to say, I have one of each of these varieties growing somewhere in my garden and look forward every winter to their blooms. I have never seen a slug bite, never had to divide them, never had to spray them — and I often dig up seedlings that I have shared with my gardening friends.

The only yearly maintenance needed is to cut off the old foliage as the new blooms or leaves emerge. Every garden needs a hellebore or two. The more the merrier, in my book.

Hellebore “Ice Breaker” features pure white flowers. They bloom from late autumn to early spring. (Nicole Phillips)

Hellebore “Ice Breaker” features pure white flowers. They bloom from late autumn to early spring. (Nicole Phillips)

Again, you can find hellebores in full bloom now at just about any garden center. The exotic ones get snatched up fast, so don’t wait until the weather is warm and cozy, or you will miss out. Whether you are a weekend “yardner” or fanatical gardener, you can’t miss with any of these hellebores. They are truly the winter jewels of our gardens.

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached at info@sunnysidenursery.net.

Roses and bees, please!

Attend two free classes this weekend: A class on how to grow roses is offered 10 a.m. Feb. 9 and another class on bringing back the bees is set for 11 a.m. Feb. 10 at Sunnyside Nursery, 3915 Sunnyside Blvd., Marysville. For more information or to sign up, visit www.sunnysidenursery.net.

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