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A Tough Plant for Tough Times


This is the year of the hellebore, at least in my garden. I have about a dozen now, with several of the lime-green ones being self-sown seedlings that have turned into grown-ups that now produce flowers. The others are rosy-red (sold as pink) and the color contrast is pleasant. So far there has been no “intermarriage” or “promiscuity” among them, so green is staying green and rose is staying rose.

Pink and mauve Helleborus x hybridus with light green foliage plays well with purple-red Euphorbia on a slope at the Scott Arboretum, Swarthmore, Pa. Photo: Charlotte Kidd

I wonder if there is any hardier spring perennial on the planet — or at least on this part of the planet. As soon as I felt inspired to venture into the garden this spring (a journey I usually make in mid-March, but this year March found me still ensconced indoors with a hot cup of tea), I went rummaging around in the mulch, and sure enough, I saw hellebore buds just beginning to poke their noses through the ground.

When it got a little warmer, it was time for the annual hellebore maintenance — cutting off last year’s leaves. That’s it. Nothing more to do.

Hellebores aren’t cheap, but the Helleborus orientalis I have (sometimes sold as Helleborus x hybrida) will last and last. It’s also sometimes called the Lenten rose. There’s another hellebore called the Christmas rose (Helleborus niger), but it doesn’t put out as many flowers, and I think it’s not as hardy. Better to spend your pennies where they will do some good.

Now there are double-flowered hellebores and two-toned varieties on the market, who knows what goodies the breeders will come up next? I’m saving my pennies.

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questions

From what I have read, hellebores are supposed to spread. I have a few I planted four years ago, and they seem to be the same as when I planted them. They are planted in a bed of vinca. Should I remove more vinca that surrounds them? I do fertilize them and protect them with a winter mulch. What else should I be doing to have more plants?

I keep seeing photos of interesting plants I’d like to grow, but they’re labeled zone 6 and I’m in zone 5. What can I do to successfully overwinter these marginal plants? I’d like to try them, but I don’t want to waste my money.

What three dwarf shrubs do you think gardeners should know about and why?

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