In the wintertime our landscape is filled with different shades of evergreens that never cease in beauty. In contrast, where the deciduous leaves have fallen, bleakness can be noticeable therefore, it’s always a pleasant surprise to have some colorful perennials and textural elements.
A lovely woodland garden with a scattering of Hellebores (Lenten Rose), mixed with grasses and a border of Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ (Black Mondo Grass) around the edges surely catches people’s attention. The dark grass would also be quite striking near the base of a tree at about one foot in height or along a sidewalk since it spreads slowly.
Heuchera (Coral bells) are another good choice to add a textured appearance with a unique leaf structure. I especially like the ‘Obsidian’ or ‘Plum’ Heuchera, but any variety will suffice. There are actually about 50 species of Heuchera with an assortment of colors from purples, reds, yellows, greens, and silver. Some varieties do have some leaf die back in the winter, but you should be able to still have some leaves after a good cleanup. The impressive part of this plant is the leaves but they do also produce small flowers in June or July. It’s always a good idea to apply a garden compost around the plants to help prevent roots from freezing or dying.
Hellebores originated in Eastern Europe and Asia but has gained a lot of popularity and is now sold in many nurseries throughout the United States. There are entire books dedicated to Hellebores and new hybrids colors continue to become available. These perennials are unique for the flowers that droop down so the rain does not affect them in the wintertime. Hellebores have very few diseases and insect issues. Nevertheless, they can acquire powdery mildew if they do not have sufficient airflow -but that is easily prevented. These perennials have a short bloom time but their foliage is evergreen, so there is something to enjoy year round. It is a personal preference whether to cut back the leaves and highlight the flowers, or to leave them. Either choice is pleasing and does not harm the plant. Hellebore hybrids range from a ‘Sparkling White’ or a pale yellow to ‘Onyx Odyssey’ ‘Winter Jewels Hellebore (which is dark purple in color).
In fact, the color possibilities are endless, in addition to singles there are numerous double flower cultivars to choose from, like ‘Fantasy’ with double white blooms, ‘Golden Lotus,’ with double yellow blooms or ‘Peppermint Ice’ which has double light pink blooms with red edges and veining.
Lane Forest Products typically carries an assortment of hellebores and heuchera at our Corner Store Nursery in the late winter/early spring. If you are looking for a bit of color in your garden during those rainy months these plants are a possibility. All of these plants are considered to be deer resistant (although there is no guarantee). If you’re growing these plants in containers it’s a good idea to wrap the container in something like burlap to prevent freezing. (Even though these plants are hardy to -20°).
Written by Karen Smith, Lane Forest Products Plant Specialist