The Best Hellebore Varieties For Your Winter/Spring Garden

February can be a bleak time on the East Coast. Days are short and the sky hangs low on the horizon. But there’s a small-sized perennial whose early, colorful blooms never fail to lift my mood. It’s the lovely, cup-shaped flower called hellebore, commonly known as the Lenten Rose.

The four main species

The hellebore genus consists of approximately 20 species. Of these, four are typically available to the consumer. All are evergreen, deer-proof and frost-resistant. And depending on climate, they bloom anytime from mid-winter to early spring. 

The Corsican hellebore (Helleborus argutifolius) has nodding, pale green flowers and holly-like foliage. At almost 4 feet tall, it is the largest of the genus. It is also the most sun-tolerant. 

Corsican hellebore

The 1 to 3-foot tall Stinking hellebore (Helleborus foetidus) bears large clusters of drooping, bell-shaped green flowers. Its unusual, deeply-cut foliage (also called Bear’s Foot) will survive winter, but often needs shearing come early spring. 

Stinking hellebore

The 12 to 15-inch tall Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger) produces large, flat flowers with centers of bright yellow. Unlike the other hellebore species, its flowers lay close to the foliage. Blooms age from white to soft pink over time.

Christmas Rose

But of all the hellebore species, the Lenten Rose (Helleborus orientalis) lays claim to the showiest flowers. Its many hybrids produce spectacular blooms in all colors, shapes and sizes. It grows to just 12 to 15-inches. 

Lenten Rose

Lenten Roses also make great cut flowers. Add them to an arrangement or float them in a bowl. They’ll last for days.

 

Here are a few of my favorite Lenten Rose varieties:

CONFETTI CAKE (Wedding Party Series)

Part of the Wedding Party Collection, Confetti Cake features large, upright-facing blooms on sturdy stems. Other colorful members of the Collection include Maid of Honor, Dark and Handsome and True Love.

Double hellebore ‘Confetti Cake’ 

ONYX ODYSSEY

If you like deep-hued flowers, the large, purplish-black double blooms of Onyx Odyssey are the ticket. Moreover, the flowers won’t fade over time, making this variety a long-lasting companion to other spring-blooming bulbs and perennials.

Onyx Odyssey/Burpee.com

GOLDEN LOTUS

Part of the Winter Jewels Collection consisting of spectacular single and double varieties, Golden Lotus features fluffy, double lemon yellow petals often streaked or edged with burgundy. Pair it with Onyx Odyssey for a striking effect.

Helleborus Golden Lotus/Perennials.com

IVORY PRINCE

Shorter and more compact than the other hybrids, the deep pink buds of Ivory Prince open to single white blossoms touched with rose and chartreuse. The upward facing flowers make a soft statement in the garden. 

Helleborus Ivory Prince/Walmart.com

RED RACER

Part of the Winter Thriller series, Red Racer features oversized velvety-crimson blooms over dark mahogany foliage. It is regarded as the truest red variety around. 

Helleborus Red Racer

Where and how to plant

Hellebores are tolerant of a wide range of growing conditions. However, they perform best in partial shade. All species will expand exponentially each year, achieving a small, shrub-like shape over time.

As is the case with most plants, well-draining soil is key. Avoid planting in saturated soil. And make sure to bury the crown slightly beneath the surface, but not too low or it will hinder flower production. 

In addition to good drainage, your hellebore will benefit from an annual application of manure or compost to boost flower production. 

Caring for hellebores

Maintaining your hellebores is easy and rarely requires more than removing dead leaves. I trim off last year’s foliage just as new shoots are appearing. As a result, the flowers bloom ahead of the leaves. Hellebores look especially attractive when combined with other spring blooming bulbs, like snowdrops and daffodils.

New shoots and blooms of a purple hellebore variety

Hellebores are toxic if eaten

Like many ornamental plants, hellebores can be moderately toxic if eaten in large quantities. On the other hand, their unpleasant taste tends to deter animals (including deer!) Although rarely fatal, large quantities can prove noxious. For more information about pets, the hellebore genus and false hellebores, check out wagwalking.com’s comprehensive information

 

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How To Say What You Mean In The Language Of Flowers

Different flowers and flower colors carry different shades of meaning

Studies show that mastering a foreign language can not only boost your brain power but also provide you with insight on how the world thinks. Unfortunately, not everyone can learn with the same facility. But there’s one second language we all know how to speak fluently, albeit with slight variations. Colorful and often emotional, it’s called the Language of Flowers.

The Victorian Language of Flowers

Back in Victorian times, people knew how to ‘say it with flowers.’ The 1800s were a buttoned-up era, with many taboos against expressing emotions. To get around the rules, people borrowed from an ancient language to convey their feelings. They used flowers and floral arrangements as coded messages.

Mother’s Day card circa 1890

Sometimes referred to as floriography, the Language of Flowers can be traced back to ancient times, including the Hebrew Bible, where plants and flowers often figure as symbols. The Song of Songs is one such example:

I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys. 2.As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters. 3 As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste. Song of Songs 2:1-3

Apple tree blossoms

The tulips’ Turkish roots

The practice of floriography most likely had its roots in Turkey, where in the 16th century, the Court in Constantinople was said to have an obsession with tulips. Following their discovery in the mountains, many powerful people began cultivating the unusual, cup-shaped flowers in their gardens. 

Tulips were an obsession in the Court of Constantinople

Eventually, Ottoman sultans began wearing tulips in their turbans, where they became symbolic of wealth and power. Today the flower’s name is believed to derive from the Persian word tulipan, meaning turban, with which it shares an uncanny resemblance.

The word tulip comes from the Persian tulipan, meaning turban

In the Western World, we have Lady Mary Wortley Montagu to thank for introducing the language of flowers to Britain. In 1716, she accompanied her husband to Turkey where he was stationed as ambassador. Montagu’s letters back to England often contained references to the Turkish use of floral symbols. This included a reported custom of using flowers to send secret messages in the harem.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

The first floral dictionary

It wasn’t until Queen Victoria ascended the throne in the next century, however, that Montagu’s efforts to promote floriography were finally embraced. Seemingly overnight, books about flower symbolism began to be published. Many of these works continue to form the basis of the floral language we practice today.

The first dictionary to associate flowers with symbolic definitions appeared in 1819 with the publishing of Le Langage des Fleurs, a work attributed to Charlotte de la Tour. The author’s true identity remained a mystery for several years until it was revealed to be Louise Cortambert, wife of the geographer Euguen Cortambert (1805-1881). She would have been in her late thirties at the time.

1920 edition of Charlotte de la Tour’s Le Langage des Fleurs

Organized by season, Le Langage de Fleurs contained illustrations and essays on different plants along with their associated meaning. There were 330 different types of emotions. Listed in alphabetical order, they ranged from messages of love, acceptance and refusal to more specific feelings or psychological states such as Render Me Justice, My Regrets Accompany You to the Grave and the catchy Better to Die than Lose One’s Innocence. The book can still be purchased on Amazon today.

Common flowers and their meanings

So what are some common flowers that we Americans know how to read? Maybe some of these generally accepted meanings will jar your memory.

Remember putting a buttercup under your chin and asking your friend if it gave a yellow glow? If a yellow reflection can be seen, a person is supposed to love butter.

Buttercups can tell if you like butter

Or did you ever pluck off the petals of a daisy one by one while alternately repeating the phrases She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not? A game of French origin, this practice can determine if the object of your affection returns those feelings.

Reading the daisy can tell you whether or not your affections are returned

Emerging from the cold ground in early spring, daffodils are the quintessential symbol of spring and rebirth. In the language of flowers, they can also mean Regards, while some dictionaries associate them with Chivalry. Other interpretations link daffodils with self-esteem, and the Greek legend of Narcissus suggests the flowers could also represent egotism and vanity.

Daffodils symbolize spring and also regards

Forget-me-nots’ meaning is implied in the name. The true blue flower whose Greek name myosotis means mouse ear, is commonly associated with constancy and friendship.

Forget-me-nots symbolize friendship and constancy

Often flower meaning derives from the behavior of the plants itself. For instance, Mimosa pudica is often linked to sensitivity or chastity, as its leaves fold up when touched by another organism.

Mimosa pudica symbolizes sensitivity

Even within the same species, colors can mean different things. In paintings, a deep red rose has been used for centuries to symbolize the blood of Christ, while also expressing the intensity of romantic love.

A red rose is associated with strong feelings of love

While pink roses express affection.

Pink roses represent affection

And yellow roses stand for friendship or devotion.

A yellow rose signifies friendship

Overachievers may like to emulate Felix in Honoré de Balzac’s The Lily of the Valley and compose elaborate bouquets built upon multiple meanings. In the novel, he uses flower arrangements to convey coded messages that only his lover can decipher. This took some advanced study, however, with Felix spending days in the countryside meditating on the essence of each flower.

Regardless of your flower knowledge, the list is as long as there are flower species. And though meanings may vary across cultures, the roots of this ancient custom remain the same. Some feelings are just better expressed when spoken in the Language of Flowers.