Floral Friday: How to Grow Hellebores for Winter Bouquets.

We've experienced crazy weather here this week. From 74 degrees to below freezing temperatures, we've battled frost, torrential rain, a flood advisory, and wind--with gusts up to 70 mph. When you live in a forest, it's inevitable that a tree will take down a power line when the wind is strong enough to rattle windows. So, on Wednesday morning, I snuggled under a duvet by the fireplace, feeling thankful that I'd charged my laptop and phone overnight.

As only kids can, our youngest son gleefully celebrated the power outage, insisting we play Uno by candlelight. (It's a little tricky to discern blue and green cards by tiny tea light, but we made it work.) When we realized that it would be a few days until power returned, we launched into homesteading mode--Peter woke at 5:30 a.m. to chop firewood, building a roaring blaze so the kids wouldn't freeze while getting ready for school. It felt very Little House on the Prairie in our Little House in the Subdivision. Later, I packed a bag and headed to the Y to shower. Thank goodness we didn't cancel our Y membership, which we'd considered--it's been months since I've placed my mat in a yoga class. (Next week, I'll get back to it. Really.) Clean and warm, I came home, poked the fire, crawled under the duvet on the couch, began working--and the lights popped back on.


Expecting to be powerless until midnight on Friday (now, today), it was almost disappointing.

Almost. My hands felt icy as I tried to type. Our youngest, though, returned home from school, thoroughly distraught to see lights. He enjoyed the candles and fire and coziness the blackout provided.

Maybe we'll turn off all the lights tonight, just for him.

In the midst of blackout madness, a friend texted me. She asked if I could provide bouquets for a fundraiser dinner. My first thoughts: it's February, it's freezing at night, and we're in the midst of a major storm. There's no way I can find anything to forage in the garden for bouquets.

But then, I remembered:

Hellebores in bloom


Thank goodness for hellebores.

Hellebores in bloom

No matter how drab and dreary winter may be, hellebores provide the perfect pop of color--and hope. Even when temperatures dip below freezing or snow and ice cover blooms, hellebores resiliently refuse to succumb to winter's meanness.

Hellebores in bloom

Did I mention how perfect they are for our shady garden?

About 15 years ago, when I first began creating our gardens, I splurged. We were newly married. Peter left an international textile machinery firm to launch his own company, I began a freelance career after years of corporate marketing and ad agency life...and our budget was limited for the garden. I spent many hours browsing plant catalogs and nurseries, dreaming of our future garden. In a fit of mid-winter blues, I saw them. Hellebores. They beckoned to me, sirens with their delicate, nodding heads, luring me to them. They weren't anything fancy--none of the gorgeous doubles that are on the market today--but they were lovely, sweet, darling blossoms with romantic colors--in the winter.

And they liked shade. Shade!

Our entire garden resides in a forest.

Hellebores in bloom

Smitten, I bought five. I blew our budget that week.

However, those five pots of hellebores became hundreds. Today, hellebores cover our beds, line paths, and meander throughout the forest. Through natural hybridization, we have blooms in every shade--deep burgundy, white, green, blush, freckled, deep pink. Every bloom is a surprise, and I'm constantly bent over the beds, turning up the faces of the blooms to see what I might find.

Hellebores in bloom

Growing hellebores is simple: the hardy perennial plants need rich, well-drained soil and grow best in partial shade. Not only do they provide beautiful blossoms, they're also evergreen throughout most of the country, proving hardy in zones 4-8. Best of all, they're easy to propagate. The lazy method of creating more hellebores is simple: let nature do the work!

Hellebores in bloom

Can you see them? Those itty bitty babies peeking out from the leaves? Every year, hundreds of seedlings germinate in our main beds, where I originally planted those five parent plants...and then, they've traveled.

Hellebores in bloom

Some of the seedlings I move to new locations...and some seeds move--with nature's help--to new homes, presenting beautiful bursts of color where I least expect them. Some traveled quite far, actually--from the front beds to the forest near the kitchen garden by the river.

It's lovely.

Hellebores in bloom

As the seeds fall, they settle into the soil. Some sources say that ants help settle the seeds into their new locations, but I can't confirm that. (If they do, thank you, ants.) The seeds rest throughout the summer, but they need winter's chill to trigger germination. New seedlings emerge in the spring, in my experience--although some seeds can be stubborn and may take up to 18 months to germinate. Typically, the first blooms will appear the following year, although I've found a few extra vigorous seedlings produced blooms the first year.

We love those superstars.

Of course, you can also micromanage hellebore germination by harvesting ripe seeds, usually in late spring or early summer, depending on your zone. The best germination tends to occur when planting the seeds immediately. You can store them, but I find they don't germinate as well as fresh seeds.

Prepare 3" containers with a good, organic, compost-rich potting soil. Moisten the mix well, then place two or three seeds per pot. Cover seeds with a thin layer of compost, and place plastic or a glass dome over the containers to retain moisture. Because the seeds need a chill to germinate, place the containers in a cold frame or unheated greenhouse.

Now, be patient. You will enjoy your reward.

Watch for the cotyledon--the "seed" leaves, which will soon be followed by the first true leaves. Once the true leaves appear, you can move the seedlings into individual containers to allow more room for growth and feed with a diluted organic liquid fertilizer.

As the plants grow and the weather warms, place the hellebores into their new garden home. Remember, partial shade is best. Many of our hellebores reside in full shade, and even there--they bloom beautifully.

Remember the recent billion-dollar Powerball craze? Peter, the kids, and I bought a couple tickets, just for fun. Over dinner, we talked about what we'd buy with our winnings. Kristen, of course, wanted a fancy horse and a hedgehog. Mikey's desires were pretty minimal. He wanted a duck. Peter, of course, dreamed of a bigger sailboat.

And me?

I wanted one of every stunning variety of hellebore in the Plant Delight's Nursery catalog. (And a flower farm. Sadly, we didn't win.)

I'm still dreaming about those double hellebores...I think I'll save my pennies and buy one at a time.

Hellebores with bee

After all, not only are hellebores a perfect cure for mid-winter bloom deprivation, they also provide an early pollen feast for the bees.

Maybe I need to place an order. I'm just thinking of the pollinators. Really.

Tomorrow, I'll head out to the garden, snips in hand, to harvest blooms for the fundraiser bouquets.

Perhaps I'll snip a few hellebores for myself, too.

Happy Floral Friday! What's blooming in your garden?