One hell of a plant—and book


This is the season for hellebores—in Northeastern gardens at least. I’ve been impressed by the way mine bounced right back up after being completely flattened and wilted by freezing temps earlier this month. Though they’ve been a perennial plant of the year, and are becoming a common sight in more North American gardens, here in Buffalo there are still only a couple places to buy even the mainstream variety, helleborus x hybridus (Lenten rose). I’ve mail-ordered all of mine, and yearn some day to order some of the new hybrids (doubles and unusual colors) developed by Dan Hinkley.

I’m not an expert on hellebores by any means; for that you need to check out Transatlantic Plantsman Graham Rice, who (with Elizabeth Strangeman) wrote the book on them: The Gardener’s Guide to Growing Hellebores (two versions of it). So that’s why I leave it to Rice to comment on the new American book on hellebores by C. Colston Burrell and Judith Knott Tyler (with a foreword by Hinkley), which he calls “invaluable.” Here’s an excerpt from the review he published on his blog, Transatlantic Plantsman

The increasing number of hybrids between species, some extremely surprising, are discussed and illustrated while the treatment of the vast variety of forms of H. x hybridus steers a commendably realistic course. There is no long descriptive list of cultivars, so few of which are actually available. Instead there are fascinating accounts of the work of a range of breeders and growers from both sides of the Atlantic. Readers will be impressed by recent achievements in North America building on earlier work in Britain. This generous inclination to recognize the work of other enthusiasts on both sides of the Atlantic is a striking feature of the whole book.

I have nothing more to add except that Timber Press has sent me a copy of this beautiful book (shown above), which I have not opened and would love to pass it along to a Garden Rant reader. It’s not exactly swag, but after the lively discussion of the ethics of giveaways and freebies, I’d like to reinforce our determination to share with our readers whatever comes to us through our love of gardening—and writing about gardening.

So, do you grow hellebores? Have you tried any of the new varieties? How do you keep hellebores from wilting in the vase when you cut them? Did your hellebores make it through our hideous early spring? Do tell!

At 4 p.m. EST today, I will put the names of all who have commented about hellebores in a hat and pick one person, to whom I will send this book. (If you don’t want the book but are commenting anyway, then just say so.)

We will be working with Timber and other publishers (we hope) to arrange more giveaways of recent releases on gardening. Stay tuned!



Thanks everybody for playing along. This is a great book, Nancy. You’ll astound your friends with your hellebore knowledge.

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming:
Global warming!
Home Depot!
Clogs, dammit!

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Unofficially and not in the running, I’ll just add that they’re in a select group – my favorite perennials for the shade – with pulmonaria and heuchera. Winter blooms, too.

    And man, I love the close-up shot on the book cover.

  2. These plants are the greatest! I live in the mid-atlantic region. I’ve planted them in the late fall when they weren’t in great condition (ok, they were free!) and they came roraing back in the early spring, complete with flowers.

  3. Love hellebores. In my coastal plain Zone 7B garden, they are as tough as they can be. They usually start blooming for me in January & almost always continue through the summer, even in our hot/humid/dry days. I have them on the north side of the house under a dogwood, with some chartreuse hostas that pick up the green of the hellebore flowers. They spread, they look great, and yes, they were even run over by two trucks moving an historic outbuilding into our backyard, and bounced right back. Can’t get enough of them. I have another shady area under pines & dogwoods that I want to colonize with them; hopefully with some of the new hybrids once I learn more about them! I have picked them for flower arrangements (in late January; fresh flowers!) and put a splash of lemon juice & sugar in the water, and they didn’t droop.

  4. I don’t know what variety I have since I bought them at a grocery store at the end of the season greatly discounted. I couldn’t quite get over the sticker shock of the full price, especially not knowing if they would make it through. After two years of really nasty conditions they are thriving, so I may (gulp) pay the price of some hybrids. They are the first precious blooms of our spring, and I love them.

  5. Mine are finally starting to bounce back from that late snow – a few blooms in the last week or so. Another benefit for those in deer infested areas…. the deer don’t touch them! I’ve heard that some of the new cultivars just aren’t as good. Curious to hear if anyone has tried them out.

  6. We have a lovely little quarter acre wood lot on our property and hellebores are at the top of the list of plants I want to incorporate once we finish all of our clearing and wood chipping. They make me swoon.

  7. I was given seedlings from a friend about 7 years ago. At first I planted them in deep shade with too much bark mulch. Then I moved them to the north side of my house (in bright light) where they thrive. Mine started blooming in early February and they’re still going. Each plant produces dozens of seedlings that seem to grow fairly fast, so I don’t understand why they’re so expensive in the nurseries.

  8. I ordered one hellebore from Seneca Hill Perennials and received a second as a gift. Ellen Hornig doesn’t breed them so much as pass along seedlings from her best specimens. The two I have are quite different, and I would love to figure out their parentage. The one I bought is white with a pink flush, the freebie is plum. The plum-colored one is up and blooming, the white is barely out of the ground. Is it location or genetics? I really don’t know.

  9. Helleborus are gaining a good reputation for their stellar performance here in my arid Mediterranean Northern Californian climate.
    They do exceedingly well in our dry shady conditions and will easily naturalize if they find themselves in a congenial location.

    If one ever finds themselves in the Sonoma County area , which is one of the richest horticultural nursery growing areas in CA , they might want to visit Emerisa Nursery in Santa Rosa where they will find a nice selection of Helleborus including many of the new hybrids. – to see their list.
    Unfortunately they do not ship , so plan a trip to N. California !

  10. I have quite a few hellebores and most of them did well this year. One HELLEBORUS orientalis ‘Blue Metalic Lady’ bloomed but for some reason the blooms rotted. I have this plant in 2 different parts of my garden and both plants blossoms rotted. I suspect they are very early ones and because of the crazy weather and too much garden litter the blooms could not survive. But I figure the good news is they Bloomed and next year I will be more careful. I also have many seedling which I am looking forward to them blooming.

  11. I put a few hellebores under the stairs where I don’t see them much. They’re destined to be pulled some day, I’m sure.

    (My favorite exotic plant for shady spots is the unhardy plectranthus.)

    Hellebore-lovers on the west coast might want to check out the winter-07 issue of Pacific Horticulture, dedicated to hellebores.

  12. Okay, now I’m LOL at the fact that many of those who comment on a daily basis and not many of the ‘clog winners’ put themselves in the running for this book!!! Very interesting and my only excuse is that I actually had to work today! Darn…but, I love hellebores and just received an email from Heronswood, that mine are on the way!!! My favorite is Helleborus foetidus. The deer don’t touch it and it always looks good. Fabulous foliage!

  13. I love Timber Press books almost as much as I love hellebores. (I checked this one out from the libary. It’s great.) I’ve grown some unnamed varieties for several years, but I’m still waiting to see seedlings that I can transplant around. Maybe this year.

  14. You know, Ginger, that was kind of my hope–that some lurkers might come forth for this. And I think it is a tribute to the highly civilized and courteous nature of our readers that those who got the clogs did not go for this.

    Or they have the book. Or they didn’t want it. Or they hate hellebores! Whatever! I am just glad to give it to someone who will enjoy it. I think I’d love to run a bookstore in another life.

  15. Thanks for quoting from my review! It’s a great book. I left PA just over a week ago just as the hellebore buds were starting to open (on extraordinarily short stems, this year, after the peculiar winter) and in general they were looking pretty rough. Then today in England I was looking at the trial of ceanothus, many in full flower, at the RHS garden at Wisley. ‘Puget Blue’ was the star. This transatlantic horticultural life sure creates some odd juxtapositions…

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