Penny O'Sullivan Looks at What's Bloomin' in April: Hellebores


hellebore (Helleborus x hybridus)
Hurray for hellebores! Hurray for spring!

When I saw my first hellebore (Helleborus x hybridus), it was late January and it was love at first sight. My friend Nicole, who lives in southeastern England, pointed out her blooming plant in a small raised bed near her kitchen door. This was 25 years ago, and this mysterious, substantial little plant struck me as something special. It had droopy white flowers and dark green leaflets arranged like fingers on a hand. Although English gardens at that time were abloom with pink-flowered Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ and coppery orange and yellow witch hazels such as Hamamelis ‘Jelena’ and H. ‘Pallida’, I only had eyes for the hellebores.

Most of mine are Helleborus Sunshine Selections from Sunshine Farm & Gardens, but I also received some sample plants from Skagit Gardens that look just as good.


Hellebores are vigorous, garden-worthy perennials for mostly sunny to fully shaded locations. A typical, single, hellebore flower consists of five large, overlapping sepals (colored, petal-like structures) surrounding a central knob of reproductive parts. The long-lasting, often droopy flowers are typically pink, maroon, near black, white, cream, yellow, green or some combination of the above, with or without veining and speckles. The sepals remain colorful and attractive after seeds replace the flowers. Blooms are single, double, or semi-double. The foliage is evergreen, but my plants get so smashed by snow each winter that many old leaves turn brownish bronze.

These 12-18-inch-tall clump-forming plants thrive in moist, well-drained, humusy soil. If you don’t want plants to self-sow, cut back flower stems after blooming to encourage a fresh crop of leaves. I let my flowers go to seed and make new plants (usually different from their parents) that form a leathery groundcover under my trees and shrubs. Self-sown plants take about three years to flower.

Visit a garden center, where you may find all kinds of hellebores, including the very cool stinking hellebore, Helleborus foetidus, with bright green flowers and skinny leaflets. It may be love at first sight for you too!

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