Hellebore Galore

In the fall of 2011 I purchased a single hellebore at the suggestion of a friend and garden designer. As I mentioned in a previous post, I was pretty unimpressed at the raggedy perennial she picked out for me, but I trusted her and dutifully transplanted it on the north side of my house. Later that winter when nothing else was happening in my yard, a couple dozen burgundy buds erupted from the center of the plant… and I fell in love.

Truly, what’s not to love about this evergreen beauty? Of course there is the hellebore’s spectacular, long-lasting floral display in the dead of winter which, by the way, features blooms in every color you could ever want. After you’ve enjoyed the flowers for a couple of months, the plant regenerates its foliage — elegant, arching stems with interesting, serrated leaves in brilliant emerald green.  And unlike the winter-blooming daphne, the hellebore isn’t fussy. It’ll tolerate full shade or sun, and is drought tolerant, winter hardy, and adaptable to most soil types. I wondered how I’d never heard of this miracle plant before.

When I was drooling over the different varieties of hellebore last fall, I learned that the beautiful Winter Jewel® series was bred right here in the Pacific Northwest. In fact, Northwest Garden Nursery was in my hometown of Eugene, Oregon where much of my family still lives. And at the exact moment that I read Marietta and Ernie O’Byrne welcomed the public into their nursery on one weekend of the year for an open house and retail sale, I knew a field trip with Uncle Jim was inevitable.

When I asked Uncle if he’d join me for Hellebore Open Garden Days, he warned that we’d have to get there early. How wise that man is. We rolled up at the published start time to find not only a long line of people already waiting to pay for their treasures, but crowds of hellebore junkies scooping up everything their little wagons could handle.

Panic immediately set in! There would be no time to ooh and ahh over the variety of colors, and contemplate which varieties I liked best. Just. Grab. Run. Hoard. Luckily, there would be time to pare down my grab bag as we stood in the slow-moving line to check out. I ended up with ten hellebore plants for myself, all featuring double flowers: 3 Peppermint Ice, 3 Rose Quartz, 3 Double Painted, and 1 Jade Tiger.

After the madness of the morning, it was relaxing and inspiring to stroll the woodland gardens surrounding the O’Byrnes’ private residence. Wow. What a definitive counter-argument to anyone who would complain that winter gardens are barren and void of color. In the gallery photos, you’ll find cyclamen, snow drops, bamboo, viburnum, and witch hazel complementing the vast hellebore gardens.

The day was a total win, and I can see this becoming a February tradition with Uncle. If you’re also interested in going next year, sign up for the nursery’s newsletter to get information as it’s available. See you there!

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