To Hellebore With the Rules

Sometimes you have to break the rules a little bit. Generally, the end of fall signals a break in adding plants to your garden, and it’s a smart move if your ground freezes over the winter. Here in Richmond however, a cold spell long enough to freeze the ground for weeks is pretty rare and there are stretches where a little off-season planting wouldn’t hurt anyone. The real problem is that nurseries at this time of year have a very low stock of perennials, most of which are the unloved misfits from last season. I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to buy a hosta, I’d rather buy a plant than spend 12 bucks on what looks like a pot of dirt. 
Fortunately, my favorite weirdo plant, the hellebore, loves to be the exception to the rule. Good nurseries have them in stock right now, and most are in full bloom. Hellebores, also known as Lenten Rose, are flowering evergreen perennials that perk up any winter garden. Once established, they are exotic looking, very low care, and even deer resistant (nothing is deer-proof if Bambi wants to tie on the feed bag).
My only problem with hellebores is that the first wave that hits the nurseries in the fall isn’t blooming yet, and it’s hard to tell from a picture if the flowers are going to be hiding in the leaves or jumping out like a drum major. Fortunately now is the time for most nurseries to restock their hellebore supply, and the majority are going to be in bloom. It’s a great opportunity to pick plants in their prime, scratch that gardening itch, and enjoy the blooms for the next month or two.
This year I splurged on a variety called Anna’s Red, which caught my eye due to its beautiful foliage and tall flowers. The leaves are leathery with bright pink veins that mature to a creamy marbled look. Unlike most hellebores, the flowers are tall and face out with showy, long-lasting blooms.
A variety with exceptional leaf color is Dorothy’s Dawn. The blooms are large and pink, but not as showy as Anna’s Red. They look great planted with ferns and other evergreen perennials. Another good choice is North Star Ruby Heart. The blooms are gorgeous, featuring a white semi-double bloom covered in ruby-red dots and splashes. Frost Kiss Molly’s White is also worth tracking down. Its white and green flowers are large but understated, and they blend in well with a classic woodland garden. 
Hellebores require moist, but well-drained soil and some shade. They enjoy full sun in the winter, but more shade in the summer so under a deciduous tree is a great location for them. If you plant them in the winter months, they will do best if they have some shelter from the wind. 
If hellebores like an area they spread through seeding, and you can divide them after a few years.  Nurseries in the Richmond area that have just restocked include The Great Big Green House, Stranges Florist, and Sneed’s Nursery
Here’s to making the most of your February, have a wonderful Valentine’s Day, and enjoy!

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