Helleborus Blooming at Sleepy Cat Farm!

Helleborus Blooming at Sleepy Cat Farm!

Back in 1990,  I first noticed Hellebores being used for large scale groundcover plantings. They were heralded as “Winter Bloomers” and the alternative to Pachysandra as a hardy, tough groundcover with large decorative flowers. As a bonus, it was declared a great cut flower as well as being a hardy and tough shade tolerant perennial.

A large planting of several thousand along an east facing slope in New Canaan, Ct,  in fact was glorious when first planted. It had replaced a street side Pachysandra planting underneath tall shallow rooted trees. The following early Spring season, it became evident that this plant wasn’t all it was purported to be. Foliage from the previous season was blackened and tattered, overshadowing the attractive semi downward facing flowers;  leaves had to be tediously removed by hand ,  accomplished while on hands and knees  and being selectively trimmed. This proved time consuming and expensive for the homeowner, while it soon became  a new chore for landscape crews in late Winter. Florists unfamiliar with the flower found it wilted quickly in arrangements, despite its thick petals.

Cut to recent years—Hellebores (specifically H. orientalis) have continued to be in favor with the development of new varieties and colors. It is no longer unusual to see double flowered forms with freckling, or yellow blooms that are more upward facing. Propagation is simple—division, seed and tissue culture techniques have brought the new varieties into the forefront quickly. Nurseries are now growing them as Easter potted plants, and florists have learned to condition them by slitting the stems on both sides to allow more water to be drawn up into the flower . 

A realtively obscure Hellebore ( Helleborus niger) called the Lenten Rose, has always been a favorite of mine. Its foliage is thicker and more leathery, and doesn’t seem to exhibit the foliar decline  as with Helleborus orientalis. It has not grown in favor in landscapes because the flowers are only available in White—until now.  Hybridizers have learned that it can be successfully crossed with  H. orientalis, and new colors have begun to emerge, as well as a more upward display of the flowers. Prices continue to be high for potted plants—yesterday I noticed carts of them at a local nursery in 3 quart pots for 39.99!  It does take several seasons to produce a heavily flowered potted specimen.

These new crosses are called different names by different licensing companies holding licensing  rights to propagation.  At SCF are growing some of the “Gold collection”  They combine the traits of both H. Niger and H. orientalis  and are giving us shades into the pinks and burgundies. It wont be long until the yellows, chartreuse and double flowered varieties make their way into these crosses.

The Helleborus Gold Collection® is a collection of premium Christmas Rose, Snow Rose and Lenten Rose varieties. Botanically, they belong to the genus Helleborus. They are hardy, low-maintenance perennials that should not be missing in any garden. They have an upright habit, with some varieties (especially Snow and Lenten Roses) forming clumps up to 1 m in diameter. First and foremost however, it is the unusual time at which they flower that makes these plants a must in any garden. They delight us with their wealth of beautiful flowers at a time when all round us nature seems asleep. Some varieties start to flower as early as November, and will withstand severe cold and snow. Others bloom in late winter and continue flowering well into spring. We have not found them nearly as high maintenance as the old orientalis types.

As well as combining with both evergreen and deciduous perennials in the garden, the varieties from the Helleborus Gold Collection® are ideal in containers for balconies, terraces and entrance areas. Combined with evergreen conifers,  groundcovers such as Epimedium and Dryopteris fern, they decorate prominent places that summer flowers would normally brighten up. Christmas Rose White Christmas® is ideal for creating floral decorations in living rooms and conservatories during the pre-Christmas period. In January and February, Snow and Lenten Roses sound the bell for spring with their beautiful flower colours and, combined with flowers such as daffodils (Narcissus), tulips (Tulipa) and alum roots (Heuchera hybrids), continue to stage their beauty into April.

We hope to be able to offer some small potted plants at our booth at Greenwich botanical center May market! Click below to check out our upcoming events!