Hellebore blooms, the confirmation that spring is in fact on her way even though there may be no other visible signs. My hellebore garden is right outside my backdoor, a 20 foot round bed beneath the largest tulip magnolia tree many has ever seen. Steve’s grandparents planted the magnolia 70 years ago and I began planting the hellebores 15 years ago. As this garden comes to life each January, breaking through ice and snow into freezing temperatures, I am reminded that anything is possible in a garden. The hellebore blooming season has become my annual sabbatical you might say as preparation of the coming season of cut-flower farming. (Pictured above: yellow primroses, bleeding hearts with hellebore in the back.)
In addition to being this incredibly easy keeper and beautiful garden plant, hellebores are excellent cut-flowers. It is one of the few flowers that in fact should not be cut until their show is almost over in the garden. When they first bloom, the blooms are facing the ground and the petals often have color. As the blooms begin to mature, the heads start to lift and show the face of the bloom.
What is unique and makes hellebores such a long lasting garden plant and then a cut flower is the cycle of life it goes through. They actual get better with age. As it blooms and goes through the stages of fertilization to move in to producing seed so it can reproduce—it does not drop its sepals and pistils as most plants do. The sepals of hellebores are what we see as the petals and the pistils are what develop into those beautiful seed pods.
So as these blooms enter into the last stages of life is when they make the best cut flower. When the blooms have lifted to face upward, have turned green and the center of the bloom has begun to develop into pods is the proper time to cut. At this stage they are very long lasting cut flowers. Cut the stem at ground level to get the maximum length and to keep the plant tidy—that stem left 6” in the garden will not produce another flower—a new one grows from the root of the plant.
The beauty of hellebores are many—for me it’s the first sign of spring, watching them go through their lifecycles that makes the gardens beauty change almost daily with an end result of a great cut flower. What could possibly be better? I didn’t even mention that they grow at the base of large greedy trees that seem to suck the life out of other plants. They are evergreen, deer resistance, grow in deep shade, and drought tolerant, all this makes them the perfect garden family member.
Although hellebores reseed freely in the garden when they are happy and well-established—we started with plants not seeds. It takes over a year just to get a little seedling. So visit your local garden center or order plants online to get your hellebore patch started. My collection of plants all came from the three plants I purchased 25 years ago.
Lisa Mason Ziegler is a commercial cut-flower farmer in Newport News, Virginia; she lectures and writes about organic and sustainable gardening. You can email Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org , call her at 757-877-7159 or visit her website www.shoptgw.com .
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