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February 28th 2018

Say hello to hellebores

Written by
Floret

The days are finally getting noticeably longer and the change in seasons is on the horizon. I’ve had a terrible case of spring fever this year after spending the winter dreaming and scheming about all the possibilities for the acreage on our new farm.

On a recent morning walk around the property I spotted a few brave blooms pushing up through the cold earth: my treasured hellebores! As some of the very first perennials to bloom in my cut flower garden, they are always joyful sight and a sure sign that spring is on the way.

 

For years, come mid winter, all of my gardening friends would be crawling around in their flower beds, heads cocked to the sky, admiring the pretty nodding flower of their prized hellebores. I would usually get down in the mud too and halfheartedly admire the crop. But for some reason, they just didn’t have the same effect on me that they did other gardeners.

That was until I started growing my own. Now every winter you’ll find me crawling around like a fool in my shade garden, oohing and aahing over the delicate nodding blossoms too. If we have company, I’ll make them get down low and experience the magic with me. Then I’ll hack off a handful of flowering stems and send them home a big ole bouquet. I admit, I was late to join what I call the Hellebore Appreciation Society. Are you a member yet?

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Hellebores, also commonly called lenten rose, are super easy to grow and extremely long-lived. These little beauties bloom from mid to late winter all the way through early summer. Hellebores come in a gorgeous array of colors in array of shades including pink, mauve, an almost-black burgundy, green, buttery yellow and creamy whites. Some of my favorites include those frilly double and those with delicately freckled blooms.

These perennial plants prefer well-drained, rich, organic soil. Hellebores thrive in the shade, making them a great choice if your garden doesn’t have full sun. Their rough, serrated leaves also make them resistant to deer and other critters. Hellebores take a few years to become established, so don’t plan on harvesting a lot of blooms the first year or two.

You can sometimes find hellebores at garden centers, but expect to pay premium prices. Most varieties will reseed, but since they are hybrids, you never know what you’ll get. Barry Glick (aka the Hellebore King) at Sunshine Farm & Gardens is a great source for hard-to-find hellebores.

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Years ago I planted 50 baby hellebores on the north side of our greenhouses. It’s the perfect shady spot, protected from harsh wind and temperature extremes.

Each winter, before the flowers emerge I spread a thick layer of compost around the plants as an amendment. It also doubles as mulch, keeping weeds down for the remainder of the year. When new growth starts to emerge in mid winter, I go through and remove all of the tattered, ugly leaves so that floral display is more visible.

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The number one question I get asked by flower lovers and designers, is how to get the blooms to last longer in the vase. Have you ever cut a handful of near perfect blossoms, brought them inside where they looked amazing, only to find them completely wilted and dead the next morning?

Well, here’s the secret for getting your cut hellebores to last in the vase: it’s all about practicing patience and harvesting them at the proper stage. I know this is hard! Trust me, I’ve broken this rule a lot, but every time I harvest them too early, the beautiful flowers rarely last more than a day. If you can just wait a little longer you be handsomely rewarded with long lasting cut flowers.

hellebore-26The key to telling a ripe hellebore from an unripe one is by checking the center of the flower. You’re looking for blooms that have dropped their stamens and started to produce seed pods. The more developed the seed pod, the longer the flower will hold.

You see the blossoms on the left side of the photo above? Those guys are “ripe” and the flowers on the right are not. I know, the ones on the right are prettier; but don’t be fooled, they won’t last like you think the will. The next two images show more examples of blooms at the proper stage for cutting.

hellebore-27 hellebore-28I’ve heard from so many florists that the cut stems they get from their wholesalers are almost always unripe. Many have reported that they’ve had the flowers crash more often than not, and no longer want to use them in arrangements because they are too nervous.

Meanwhile, some farmer-florists swear by a method of post-harvest care for unripe flowers that involves cutting a long, shallow slit along two sides of the stem. Have you tried this method or do you have any special tips or tricks that you use to lengthen the vase life? Have a favorite hellebore cultivar I should add to my garden? I’d sure love to hear your experience with this flower in the comments below.

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24 Comments

  1. Jean on

    Mine last for weeks as a cut flower. I cut them when they are “ripe”. I am amazed by the vase life.

    Reply
  2. Donn Meyers on

    Recently I heard a woman speak on using fresh unusual flowers in your cut bouquets. One if them was hellebores.
    We are in Pa. where winter seems like forever, and when I brought them previously, they winted and died the next day. She said they bleed to death do must be prepared by dipping the fresh cut dtems in boiling water immediately for 20 seconds to stop them from bleeding. Then they can be used. I understand the process but then how will the stems absorb the water? Wonder what your thoughts were on it.

    Reply
  3. Melissa Matz on

    I love hellebores. I bought one because I thought it was pretty long before I had a clue what I was doing. Years later I divided my plant and moved it to where I could appreciate them more. I continue to try to make room for more along the east side of my house and make room in my budget to add a new variety every year. My grandma used to float roses in a jar. After reading posts about submersing in water I’m going to try floating some. Erin, do you have tips on starting them from seed? I’ve never done it.

    Reply
  4. Chelsea Ruiz on

    Been bitten by the bug. Big fan of the new Hellebore coming out of Thierry van Paemal with Het Wilgenbroek. The yellows and deep slate blues – to die for! Ugh. So. Good.

    Reply
  5. Tammy Carnahan on

    I had to make a bouquet before the snow came and so many stems were pretty “fresh” but I conditioned them with 20 seconds of boiling water and they are still going strong. Next day, One stem I had to recut and submerge the stem for 20 seconds again; it revived and it’s still going strong. Of course, they are messy with all the stamens dropping but it doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful!!

    Reply
  6. VW on

    I have nearly 40 hellebore plants, many of which are not yet mature. Over here in cold Spokane, spring takes so long to arrive that the hellebore blooms are especially welcome! I took a trip to the hellebore weekend at the O’Byrne nursery in Eugene, OR a few years ago and delighted in the results of their hybridizing. I even lugged a few gallon-sized plants home on the plane with me, squished with my feet under the seat in front of me. I guess that makes me a member of the club, eh? My ‘Golden Lotus,’ ‘Kingston Cardinal,’ and ‘Pink Tea Cup’ are favorites. Or maybe ‘Velvet Lips’ or ‘Jade Tiger’ or ‘Berry Swirl.’ Actually, I adore them all when they get large enough to put on a good display. Last fall I added several selections from the Wedding Party series, whose double forms and colors look especially pretty in photos. I’ll have to wait until next year to see blooms, though. I also planted three pink Madame Lemmonier, whose flowers are supposed to get quite large (4″) so they’ll make a nice contrast with regular sized blooms in a vase. After having several hellebore stems wilt in the vase, I had finally figured out that I needed to wait to pick them. I’m glad to hear the suggestions here on how to condition the ‘unripe’ blooms for use as well. Love your book and your blog. Happy spring!

    Reply
  7. Gwendolyn on

    NOW I’m a member of the “Hellebores Appreciation Society”. We went to Copenhagen and Amsterdam recently; hellebores were the bravest little bouquets in the market (when it was so cold outside). Thanks for beautifying the world. I really like your book, your blog. I’ve been sick for years. I’m feeling a lot better now. This year I’m going to plant flowers.

    -Gwendolyn Soper, Utah
    P.S. We lived in Bellingham, WA for years (before it got so crowded). I loved living in the PNW.

    Reply
    • Heidi Ferguson on

      I’ve been growing hellebores for years. I love that way they bloom in the depth of winter here in Utah. I love the Marci Gras rose and apricot colors. They really sing to me from a distance. The amazing thing to me is that they are really very adaptable in the garden. I have heavy clay soil- they do fine. It can get very hot and dry here. As long as they are in shade or part shade they do great here. It’s great to find a favorite from the classic English garden that does great here in the West. I’m a professional landscaper and I try to get hellebores into every garden I work on. Customers always comment on how nice they are to see under the snow.

  8. Alicia on

    So many good tips here, going to experiment and see what works for me!

    Reply
  9. Mari on

    Such beautiful flowers! Waiting for mine to bloom :)
    I wonder; do you cut of the leafs and toss them? In that case; Why?
    Thank you so much for the very inspiring Cut Flower Garden!

    Reply
  10. Vanessea on

    I blanch the stems
    in boiling water 15- 30 secs works a treat for vase life improvement.

    Reply
  11. Madeline on

    I make the shallow cuts in the stems of unripe hellebores. It has always worked for me. They don’t wilt and generally last more than 10 days in a vase (changing the water, of course).

    Reply
  12. Sam Smith on

    So beautiful, especially the colors. I will look more into this for sure.

    Reply
  13. Mary Waller on

    The book has been my inspiration. Congratulations Erin! My favorite flowers of many…. daisies and dahlias!

    Reply
  14. Kathryn Cronin on

    I’ve tried completely immersing them in water for 24 hours even when they’re unripe it seems to work for getting them to hold

    Reply
  15. Robin Cockerline on

    I became known as the mom to go to for (free) prom flowers. Our two sons had many adorable friends eager to impress their dates. I would pick whatever was in bloom and there were always some lovely ‘ripe’ hellebores in shades that blended so well with all the colors in the bouquets. Our country prom girls had lovely little bundles of seasonal blooms, wrapped in satin ribbon, that were quite chic. I don’t know if they understood that, but I sure did.

    Reply
  16. Inna Zvezdina on

    Our hellebore are loading today from Holland to be shipped to freezing Russia! We ordered number of different pot and cut varieties. But right after we ordered I’ve been told by one florist that variety “Anna’s Red” has the longest vase life but its hard to find them! We don’t have a big range of varieties in our garden centers but at least we know what to look for. If you have “Anna’s Red” in your garden it would be great to learn about it vase life. And anyway this variety has a beautiful flowers.
    Thank you for the expiring post! You’re changing the world!

    Reply
  17. Grace on

    Love your site, the photography and attention to detail. Thank you.

    Reply
  18. grace | ghhorticulture on

    You should try the Winter Jewels series by the O’Byrnes at Northwest Garden Nursery in Eugene.

    Reply
  19. Robyn on

    Katie at Ponderosa & Thyme said she submerges the entire plant, bloom and all. I tried this technique, submerging them for 24 hours in cool water outside at about 38° It works like a charm! They’ve been indoors at 68° in a vase for 2 weeks now!

    Reply
  20. Rachel on

    I accidentally cut a few flowers when cutting off the old leaves. I put them in water and they looked great for a couple of days then started to droop. I trimmed the stem a little bit, put them back in water, and they perked right up. I did this again a few days ago and they still look good. It’s been almost two weeks. They were un ripe when cut, but the stamens are drying up now. I think the cultivar I have is Metallic Blue Lady.

    Reply
  21. Gretchen on

    Great info – thank you! Where do you recommend getting them any variety vs the hard to find varieties you mentioned?

    Reply
  22. Joanna Game on

    Searing the stems in boiling water work fantastically well for me every time and can even perk up hellebores that have started to wilt. 30 seconds in just boiled water up to about 2 inches of stem followed by immediate immersion into deep cold water, after a good long drink they are ready to use. I often have the flowers in my studio for at least a week after this and sometimes longer. Such beautiful flowers and such a treat after the winter.

    Reply
  23. Katy on

    I was JUST out checking on mine (just a couple plants) and there is new growth!! It’s been super crappy in WI and it’s such a sight for sore eyes! Thanks for the tips about vase life!!

    Reply

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