Anne Jaeger Column
February 25th, 2003
All Hail Hellebores!
Mid-step in the crosswalk I overhead the man in front of me say; “There’s just nothing in our yard right now. I mean, nothing’s blooming.” It was all I could do to prevent myself from interjecting into his conversation like that AFLAC duck on television and blurt out the suggestion “Hellebores”! Oh my Gawd, Thank heaven for hellebores. These things flower no matter how cold it gets. Hellebores actually prefer the cool weather. The flowers look dainty, but the leaves are like leather. The leaves are divided like an outstretched hand, except this hand has seven to nine “fingers”. The flowers come in white, pink, rose, crimson, purple, black, chartreuse, double and singles. Ahhh yes, when the hellebores bloom you know spring is not far behind. You don’t have to pronounce the name right to grow them, but it’s a good place to start. The experts say: “Hell-a-bore” but the plant is anything but a “bore”. “Every year they are such a treat. You look outside and see hundreds of these flowers blooming” and that is exactly what keeps Audrey and Jim Metcalfe hooked on hellebores. The Metcalfe’s run Honeyhill Farms Nursery outside their home in Southwest Portland (503-292-1817). The thrill of breeding new varieties is what makes Jim Metcalfe’s heart (a retired cardiologist) flutter. It all started with one ‘Lenten Rose’ hellebore that reseeded and bloomed profusely all along their hillside. Audrey Metcalfe says “I think people question a plant that blooms in winter. They think it’s been forced into flower, so it is difficult for new gardeners to understand how easy it is to grow.” And that is true. Most garden variety hellebores are easy to plant and require even less care thereafter. To plant, dig a hole about a foot deep, add mulch and a little slow-release fertilizer, like Osmocote, to the soil you dig out. Replace about half the soil mixture into the planting hole. Plunk in the hellebore and refill the sides (make sure the soil is level). Now, if you feel like it, give it another dose of slow-release fertilizer, a ¼ cup of lime and top it off with mulch next fall. You’ll see the flowers by late February. See? Flowers when “nothing” is blooming in the garden! So, next time you’re at the garden center head for the hellebores and you won’t have me tossing out non sequiturs behind you in crosswalks.
*”Gardener’s Guide to Growing Hellebores”
Graham Rice and Elizabeth Strangman
Flowering shrubs and plants with hellebores: