entertainingFood & Drinkoutdoorweeders digest

weeder’s digest: hellebores

by Grace Bonney

There are a handful of flowers that rise above all others in my book. Cafe au lait dahlias, tree peonies*, fritallaria, certain garden roses….and hellebores. On the rare occasion that I find such specimens I tend to inflate into an monster shopper, and like a bride at a Vera Wang sample sale, I plow through aisles of flowers elbowing my way to grab the loveliest specimens for myself. I have shame.

But I also have gorgeous hellebores. I sit surrounded by them. People come in and I shout “They’re not for sale!” I cancel all my appointments. Tell my boyfriend I’m busy tonight. These lovelies need all my attention. You see, the hellebore is a sensitive flowers, and one must treat it with utmost care…

The Hellebore is a small genus in the Ranunculaceae family (to which the ranunculus, anemone and delphinium also belong). It is also known as the “Lenten Rose” or “Christmas Rose” and legend has it that when a young girl did not have a gift for the baby Jesus, she cried, and from her tears sprung up a white flower from the snow. I yawn.

Perhaps of more interest, is its medicinal powers and uses in witchcraft. Highly poisonous, small doses were used to cure madness and stimulate the heart. (Toxic doses result in cardiac arrest, and some postulate that Alexander the Great met his fate by a Hellebore overdoes.) Stringent precautions were taken when harvesting the hellebore, and legend has it that collectors would circle the plant with a sword while chanting prayers to Apollo. Eagles spotted overhead during this procedure were a portentous indicator of death within the year.

CLICK HERE for the rest of Sarah’s post and additional, full-sized images after the jump!

The 411: Cut Hellebore are available from late winter to early spring. The most popular variety; Helleborus Orientalis bears a dusty plum-colored flower. When cut, they will last only 2-3 days before wilting. A florist in Paris showed me how to score the stems and this seems to give them an extra day or two. With a pairing knife just score a few lines 3 inches from the bottom of the stem.

Another trick to keep them looking good is to support the flowers by clustering them in a hydrangea or a bunch of lilacs – the support of other flowers in a tight bouquet will keep the helleborus upright, thus allowing water to be absorbed up to the flower head.

You can buy potted hellebores – they like to be planted outside, in the ground with good fertilized soil. They will flower from late winter through early spring – and a happy plant will keep it’s flowers for up to 2 months followed by pretty seed pods. They are sold as shade-plants, but will tolerate sun as well. Keep them watered during periods of drought through the summer.

Hellebore are a gorgeous option for early spring weddings – March, April, before peonies take center stage. Jus’ saying…and speaking of weddings, my boyfriend has recently decided that people should get married in Second Life. “Just think how cheap it would be!” he says. “Virtual food, flowers – anything you want! You could serve Dragon!” –Sarah

*Which I found for $20 a stem at the market last week. TWENTY-DOLLARS-PER-STEM. I held them for a few moments…and then very gingerly put them back on the shelf.

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  • Hellebores grow like weeds in my garden here in Atlanta and I have masses of them. They’ve thrived on 100% neglect.

    I’ve owned my house for several years but only in the last year have I had the time to take an interest in gardening.
    I’ve recently taken a few classes at our botanical garden and learned how prized hellebores are. I’m embarrassed to admit I’d never even watered mine. But I’ve come to appreciate them.

  • What is the difference between a tree peony and a camelia? The flowers (from my limited google search) look pretty similar …

  • Every morning I run past the most beautiful patch of hellbore in Central Park. I just love them, and am constantly stopping to talk to people about them when they look confused.

  • How lovely! I just recently read an extensive article on these great plants. They make me wish I had a garden! They remind me of the floral prints by Brett Harper, although I’m pretty sure he never rendered hellebores, which is a real shame. Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Helebores were also featured on Martha Stewart recently. I’ve never seen them before, thanks for the ideas. I am “digging” Weeder’s Digest!!

  • i wish you posted more often. i love your voice, you’re hilarious. and the flowers aren’t bad either.

  • definitely one of my favorite flowers – especially the really pale green ones!
    thanks sarah :) great photos and tips for preserving these fragile flowers longer

  • You’ve inspired me to finally use our last wedding gift certificate today. I just ordered some “Brandywine” plants. Can’t wait to see them grow! Your photos gave me heart palpitations and that rush I feel when I start lusting after plants!!

  • So pretty..could you please tell us what else is in the bouquet in picture number 4 or the one in the vase?

  • hellebores are wonderful in the garden. they have lots of “babies” that transplant easily. i’ve filled all the holes in my garden with baby hellebores. i’ve never seen them used in arrangements before, beautiful job!

  • just a suggestion: if you want them to last in a vase, wait until the blooms have spent a couple of months on the plant, until they are almost papery. then, cut them and bring them in. i usually don’t do this until late may here in the northeast.

  • I love Weeder’s Digest! I too have hellebores in my rented 3/4 acre garden. They can’t be killed, but yes, they don’t last long when cut.

  • I’m not saying that everyone is avoiding your last statement on purpose, (God knows I was trying to)…..and I’m also not saying that your boyfriend is the biggest nerd ever (because that would mean my boyfriend – who is 27 and STILL plays Magic the Gathering, or as his buddies refer to it in public “MTG” – doesn’t exist). But what I am saying is, “please remind your boyfriend that some ideas, while theoretically valid, don’t make sense to women, and they also remind us women why we’re in charge of everything.”

  • Absolutely gorgeous, and we share all the same favorite flowers. Add chocolate cosmos to my list as well!

  • They do not like sun, their leaves will burn and dry up like a brown paper bag. They need moist, fertile soil with filtered to dense shade. They perform best with proper drainage and dappled sunlight.

  • I love, love, LOVE hellebores. Oh, and frittalaria! Such good flowers.

    I’m a florist as well, and I had a customer a few weeks ago who was desperate for peonies. I informed her that they were extremely out of season, but she kept persisting, so I called around a few places. One vendor wanted $10/stem, and another said she’d give me a good deal if I bought five bunches at $35 per a five stem bunch. Apparently, they’re all coming out of Holland right now. Crazy!

  • Ah! You are like my Northern Hemispheric floral doppelganger. Hellebores, flannel flowers, passion flowers and anemones are all bliss, on a pedestal slightly shorter than that of hydrangeas.

    I met someone recently who was planning their wedding based around ‘white tulips – lots and lots of white tulips. In vases.’ and I promptly curled up in a ball and fell asleep at their feet.

    May your column improve such conversations in the future!

  • We seem to have the same taste in flowers–and all the same favorites! This is another beautiful post, and I especially enjoyed seeing the hellebores as part of a bouquet. Just lovely!

  • I love them… they mean so much to me peeking up in my garden. New life at Easter time. Their spiritual quality doesn’t make me yawn, but rather makes them even more special.

  • OH! The garden store by me is having “7th Annual Hellebore Days” right now, and so now I know what that is. Cool!

  • Note to self: stop reading Weeder’s Digest at work. Sarah, you’re so frickin’ hilarious I always laugh out loud. And when my mystified coworkers sneak a peek at my screen to see what’s busting me up so much… they see pictures of flowers. *Sigh* They just don’t understand.

  • sigh…I can’t get enough of these lovelies. thanks for sharing. “Ivory Prince” is my favorite – more upright so you can see her pretty face.

  • Yeah! I’m glad Weeder’s Digest is back. And looking good. Those bouquets are gorgeous.

  • Just read Weeder’s Digest and there were the hellebores.. went to Athens, Ga with my daughter and before I had my leg out of the car.. I was trying to reach what turned out to be hellebores!!! I found a pot of them in Dallas and now am wondering if they can handle Texas summers.. would like to hear … thanks..

  • GT: tree peonies and camelia are in different families, though they look similar.

    Shannon: that vase has a big mix of lilac, hellebore, white cherry buds, an amarylis, hydrangea, anemones and freesia.

    Angela: hellebore grown in zones 6-9 – and they like to be in the ground. If you are container gardening, you’d want to use a large container with ample drainage. It will need to winter outside. I’ve got one in a small pot indoors, and am testing it inside

  • oh to live were i could grow or even buy such beauties they are so delicious and your photos deeevine i have never seen these at the l.a. flower mart p.

  • I have a huge green flowering one in front of my porch that gets full sun until around noon. I live in zone 5 and have had this(neglected) plant for years. In full bloom right now. Beautiful.