Wednesday, June 3, 2009


The genus Helleborus covers a group of perennial plants from Europe and Asia. Virtually all are garden worthy, though the acaulescent (stemless) hybrids have become the most popular forms found in gardens.


The hellebores form by far the largest and most handsome group of winter flowering herbaceous plants. Throughout the genus there is a wonderful quality of sculptured perfection and classic poise, both of leaf and flower. They are conveniently grouped into two main sections, the ones whose flowers and leaves grow annually from the base, and the other in which they are borne from a woody stem produced the previous summer. All kinds like a little shade and shelter from he wind


Hellebores are gross feeders and amply repay a generous dressing of old manure in late spring to help them build up again for the next flowering season, for in the southern hemisphere they all flower from late June to early September.


Nearly every garden has a spot for hellebores, and the plants will thrive in many different environments. Still, they remain unknown to many gardeners despite their toughness, beauty, hardiness, and wonderful habit of blooming in winter when most other plants remain dormant.  The majority of hellebores are deep-rooted, stout plants. Once established, most hellebores make drought- tolerant plants, particularly if given some dappled shade in areas of long, hot and/or dry summers. Yet, despite the fact hellebores are almost invariably sold as shade plants, in most garden conditions they will perform their best if given some sun. Many species grow wild in open meadows with only short grasses to shade the earth around them.  


Most hellebores are relatively carefree plants. As with many ornamental perennials, adequate soil preparation is the key to long-term health and vigour. Though hellebores will grow in a great variety of soil conditions, a well-drained base containing plenty of organic matter suits them. Preparing deep beds will provide the extensive root systems plenty of growing room and potentially many decades of healthy growth. Ideally, the soil should receive regular moisture without being waterlogged. However, the plants are surprisingly drought-tolerant once established and can survive in less than optimum conditions.


One exciting way to grow hellebores is by sowing seed. Though it is nice to purchase a beautiful plant and put it in the ground, growing from seed can also be an enjoyable experience. Germinating seed is quite easy so long as you give them the conditions they need and exhibit a little patience (well, maybe a lot of patience is more accurate). Most plants will bloom in their third or fourth year.


Stemless hellebores divide fairly easily. Simply make sure to choose an established clump and dig up as much of the root-ball as possible.  Hellebores have extensive root systems, often deeper than the height of the plant.  Gently shaking or washing off the excess soil allows for better viewing. Though it is possible to divide at almost any time of the year in some climates, late spring and early fall generally provide the most opportune times for many gardeners.  Dividing hellebores is the only simple way to produce more of a special plant.  Careful hand pollination can result in many similar (or even superior) specimens, but seed-grown plants in many cases will differ significantly from the parent. Starting from seed is often the most efficient way to raise a healthy plant, however, given care and a mild environment, divided plants will also thrive.

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