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Winter Flowers: Hellebores

Today begins a series on the flowers that I grow and love, starting with winter flowers. I am excited to take a deep dive into the different flowers that we grow on the farm with a little backstory about how they ended up on the farm. Many are perennials with my favorite annuals and biennials thrown in for good measure.

Our story

It feels right to start off the series with hellebores. Moving to the mountains of North Carolina straight from hot Honduras and humid Texas, I had never seen hellebores (also called Lenten roses) before. A good friend had them growing in her yard and dug up two plants for me to transplant around our new house. These plants were the first that I added around our yard, and they began a love of gardening. It took two years for the plants to acclimate and mature before they started blooming. When they finally did bloom, it was amazing to have beautiful "blooms" in the middle of winter. We have added a little to our hellebore collection each year.

How to grow

In our region, hellebores start blooming in late December and will continue to bloom until mid to late spring. Hellebores are a perennial and do well in partial shade with well-draining soil. They need very little maintenance.

They will self-seed and begin to grow hybrid hellebores as the seeds are not true to the parent plant. It takes three years for a plant to mature and begin blooming. In general, hellebores are a more expensive plant because of the time it takes before they bloom. (Check local online listings for seedlings, though they may be hybrid varieties).

If you want to try to grow hellebores from seed, I have found it is best to put the seed immediately in a pot or in the ground outside to let them grow, usually in late spring. The seeds should be placed on the surface of the soil, and the soil should be consistently moist. The seeds need cold stratification in order to sprout, meaning they need a cold snap to signal that it is time to sprout.

The bloom on the plant is actually sepals that protect the flower inside. The best stage to harvest the bloom is when the stamens fall off the flower and the sepals begin to form seed pods. I also dip the blooms into boiling water when I need the flowers immediately.

After the cold weather of winter, cut back dead or brown leaves and mulch sparingly to make sure the mulch is not touching the plants. Mulch will help retain moisture around the plants.

Hellebores work well in bouquets and arrangements. Their mauve, white, and green shades look great paired with spring flowers.

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