Thanks to Dan Hinkley, Tony Avent, …



… and an extensive  roster of hellebore breeders, including Ernie and Marietta O'Byrne, Joseph Heuger, Glenn Withey and Charles Price, and many others, I now have something truly distinctive to admire when hardly anything else is growing in the slowly thawing Buffalo spring. Not to mention that even the most exotic hellebores don’t seem to mind my maple-root-choked soil.

I first saw these on the back of the Wayside catalog about ten years back; I think they were offering the hybridus ‘Party Dress” strain, a Heronswood introduction, but I could be wrong, and no longer have the catalog. I do have several old Heronswood catalogs with dizzying arrays of not just hybridus but also foetidus, niger, and multifidus strains. Ten years ago I bought the plants featured on the back of the Wayside catalog and they have matured into large clumps, one with white single flowers, the other with pinkish greenish single flowers.  (I think one gets more shade than the other.)


These days I rely on Plant Delights for interesting hellebores via mail order, but increasingly I am seeing beautiful doubles and singles offered at area nurseries. The double purple/maroon varieties here are from Plant Delights. One of them is ‘Kingston Cardinal,’ a Hinkley introduction. Neither of these appears in the PDN offerings now.

I made the mistake of picking up and paging through a couple old Heronswood books just now. Never again. Not only did I see all the hellebores I never ordered, there were also 4 types of podophyllum and 6 types of hepatica. What was I thinking?! What a woodland garden I’d have if I had stocked up on all these when I could.


Oh well. The hellebores make up for it. Unlike other fleeting spring beauties, the flowers last well into June, and after that you have magnificent clumps of foliage. These plants are an amazing boon for the cold climate gardener. I couldn’t care less about orange, yellow, and lime green echinacea; just give me more hellebore strains, and I’ll plant them, as long as I have room.

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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. Hooray for hellebore season! I’m enjoying mine, too. At a time when the snowdrops have faded and woodlanders such as bloodroot are just making their shy appearance, hellebores give me faith that a new gardening season is truly on the way!

  2. Mahonia & nandina & more are on our invasive plant list.

    It’s curious helleborus are not.

    My garden is old, it has mahonia, nandina, & the too-rapidly-seeding-helleborus.

    Have taken entire sections of nandina out, replaced with camellia. Have also taken out loads of helleborus.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  3. Talk to me more about how the hellebores don’t seem to mind maple-root choked soil….I have an area under a huge old maple tree (that gets nice morning-to-noon sun) that nothing seems to survive in (except weeds that are not interesting to look at). When I describe it to other gardeners, they either roll their eyes or say some version of “Under a maple tree? Good luck”. Hellebore sounds lovely and interesting!

  4. Two of mine are growing directly underneath an old sugar maple–right next to the trunk. The others (the ones pictured here) are in the root range of 3 Norway maples.

  5. Great post! And a lesson in supporting great nurseries while you have a chance! If we want sources for amazing plants like we find at Plant Delights, Arrowhead Alpines, and Annie’s Annuals we’ve got to keep them in business!

  6. Thanks Elizabeth. My maple is a bigleaf, I think I’ll play around with the hellebores and see what happens!

  7. Elizabeth, I tried to post this earlier but it disappeared. Are you familiar with Munchkin Nursery in Indiana? Gene Bush, the owner, has many woodland plants; lots of hellebores and hepaticas, etc. The quality is good and the prices, in my opinion, reasonable. I got that double red hellebore and a nearly black one from him, as well as a hepatica that’s just about to bloom. I highly recommend Munchkin Nursery!

  8. Long long ago, before the hellebore craze, when I only knew them as christmas or lenten rose, I bought one at a little nursury at the tail end of summer for a buck. For years it did nothing. No bloom, just a few leaves. Finally it bloomed. The greeny pink one. Finally it is looking good. So I was thrilled when I found a baby some yards away. And now you tell me it is invasive?! It seems to take about 12 years for something to suddenly become invasive in my garden. Spiderwort, Babtista, even european ginger pops up all over the place (and thrives in full sun)and now I will have to watch out for the hellebores. Whereas all the cool heruchias just squat there and dwindle away. As does black eyed susans.

  9. I can’t wait for the plant breeders to get more of them to look up – I like a face-to-face conversation with my bloomers. A few do but most point down.

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