The magical colors of Merlin. Photo credit; Skagit Gardens

As the last of the colorful leaves fall from the trees and blue skies turn gray – especially here in Seattle, I find myself yearning for color. Spring is many months away – I need something NOW and the new Lenten roses (Helleborus) fill that gap beautifully.

Helleborus Gold Collection® grown by Skagit Gardens has revolutionized the hellebore world. Blooming at a younger age than older hybrids and offering an unbelievably long bloom time these really do earn their gold star status. Another breakthrough is that each of the large flowers faces outwards so that you can appreciate the beauty without getting on your hands and knees! They are also fuss free, deer resistant, evergreen and shade tolerant. What more can you ask? Here are three personal favorites.

Plant 'Pink Frost' where the light can stream through from behind to really appreciate its delicate beauty

Top of the list has to be Pink Frost (Helleborus x ballardiae Gold Collection® Pink Frost).  This award winning variety was introduced about three years ago and I absolutely love it. I use this massed in the landscape as well as in shade containers where they bloom from November to March. (Even though Skagit says these bloom  mid-January onwards I have found them to be covered in fat pink buds held high on their red stems in early November with flowering starting shortly thereafter). At any one time the silvery green foliage is adorned with flowers in shades of pink, burgundy and deep red.  Clumps spread nicely to form 2’ wide mounds.

Foliage and flowers are equally beautiful on Merlin. Photo credit; Skagit Gardens

The new kid on the hellebore block is Merlin (Helleborus x ballardiae Gold Collection® Merlin). I met this magical perennial recently at the Garden Writer’s Association symposium in Tucson and was struck by the outward facing blooms which opened pale pink, transitioning through rose before maturing to a rich cranberry. The foliage and stems are much darker than those of ‘Pink Frost’ and are truly spectacular. This would be worth growing as a foliage plant even if it never flowered! A little smaller than ‘Pink Frost’, this beauty grows about 15” wide.

Cinnamon Snow will add sparkle to the shade garden. Photo credit; Skagit Gardens

Cinnamon Snow (Helleborus x ballardiae Gold Collection® Cinnamon Snow) is one of the earliest to bloom which makes it a great addition when I am replanting containers in fall. Pink buds open creamy white, each petal brushed lightly with shades of rose and warm cinnamon. This delicious confection reminds me of ‘grown up’ ice cream – the sort you only buy as a treat when the children aren’t at home! The foliage is a dark green; a perfect backdrop that allows the flowers to really sparkle. This robust hellebore grows to 2’ wide and blooms from December – February according to the grower but once again I have found these to be in bud as early as late October.

How to grow

  • Rich, moisture retentive soil
  • Part or full shade (bloom best in morning sun and afternoon shade or dappled shade all day)
  • Mulch in summer to retain moisture
  • Trim off older leaves in spring to freshen it up.

Cinnamon Snow works equally well in containers and the landscape. Photo credit; Skagit Gardens

 

Companion ideas

Landscape – Mass at the base of a coral bark maple (Acer p. ‘Sango Kaku) to enhance the winter interest. The  Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’) could then  be added to form bright waterfalls of gold  from spring-fall, contrasting beautifully with the hellebore foliage

Containers – partner with pink hued coral bells (Heuchera) such as ‘Georgia Peach’ or ‘Berry Smoothie’ to repeat the pink tones and perhaps a green and white variegated grass to add finer texture. In this container a burgundy Cordyline and evergreen fern have been used as companions.

 

Which is your favorite hellebore? Plant all three and you’ll have color from now until March!

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