Plant Collector – Helleborus orientalis

Helleborus orientalis - quiet and undemanding stars of winter

Helleborus orientalis – quiet and undemanding stars of winter

Hellebores are quiet heroes in the winter garden. I have never seen a strident one. By far the most common hellebore is H. orientalis – though it is not from the Orient, being native to northern Turkey and Greece. It is a perennial which keeps its leaves all year round but in our experience it is not one that appreciates being dug and divided. Plants subjected to this routine can sulk for a long time afterwards. You are better to salvage some of the many seedlings you get around plants if you want more.

Given their origins, it is not surprising that these plants are happy to lead their quiet existence in fairly tough conditions, coping with root competition and shallow soils. This makes them ideal for semi shaded, dry areas beneath trees where it is not always easy to find suitable plants. However, they won’t appreciate dense shade. Lift the canopy of overhanging trees and shrubs to get more light.

Most hellebores come in shades of dusky pinks, reds, greens and white – or sometimes in blends of these colours and they often change colour with age. There are some highly desirable deep red and slate colours – the latter bringing blue-purple tones. However the performance of these appears to be temperature related. The colder your conditions (and these are cold hardy plants), the better colour you will get. The best ones we have seen were in Taupo and the UK where winters are considerably chillier.

If you have prized cultivars, keep them separate if you are hoping to raise seedlings. They are promiscuous plants and will cross readily. That said, to my mind, hellebores look best in big patches or drifts. Interplant with winter and early spring bulbs (bluebells, snowdrops, smaller growing daffodils are our preferences) to add interest.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.