I have often said that if I were only allowed to have one flowering plant, it would probably be a hellebore. What's not to love about this plant? It has beautiful glossy green foliage that hangs around all winter, it's amazingly frost resistant, the deer seem to hate it, and its flowers come in the most delicious colors that run the gamut from creamy whites, through deep pinks and purples, to almost black.
Hellebores are one of the first plants to flower here at Juniper Hill in the spring. The five petals that make up the flower of the hellebore are not really petals at all but sepals. And sepals do not fall as petals do, so they can actually hang on for several months. Yet another bonus!
There are many different species of hellebores and more colorful hybrids are appearing each year. The plant has a long history of medicinal use and has strong ties to folklore and witchcraft. Helleborous orientalis is still used in some parts of the world as an herb for weight loss and Helleborous niger was once used in the treatment of paralysis, gout and even insanity. And, just in case the hellebores didn't cure your insanity and you wanted to cast a little spell on someone, the plant was also long believed to be capable of summoning demons. Not a plant you messed around with lightly unless you had an exorcist in the family.
Helleborous niger, probably the most widely grown hellebore, is also known as the lenten or Christmas Rose. Hellebores share nothing in common with roses but an old legend has it that the plant sprouted in the snow from tears shed by a young girl who was distraught because she had no gift for the Christ child in Bethlehem; thus the name.
Hellebores prefer to grow in partial shade and appreciate plenty of organic matter such as peat moss or leaf mold mixed into the soil before planting. Make sure there is some protection from winter winds. Our happiest hellebores are planted on the north side of the house, close to the foundation, where they receive just a slight amount of sunlight.