Helleborus niger 'Josef Lemper'
Hellebores, also called Christmas or Lenten Rose depending on the species, are staples of the Southern shade garden. Their evergreen foliage provides year round interest, but it's their flowers that are most welcome during the short, gray days of winter. I have several and can honestly say I don't think I've ever met a hellebore I didn't love. Some of the most impressive that I have trialed over the past three years include Helleborus niger 'Josef Lemper', which began flowering the week of Thanksgiving (2011) and continues to produce new flowers even as I'm writing this, the third week of February, three months later.
Helleborus niger 'Double Fantasy'
Helleborus niger 'Double Fantasy' as it ages.
Helleborus x 'Winter Moonbeam'
Another outstanding performer in the garden during the past three years or so has been Helleborus x 'Winter Moonbeam'. I love its foliage in the summer--a dark, almost black-green with creamy silver marbling in the veins. It's right by the front door where I can appreciate it every day. And in winter, it greets me from around New Years Day until late March with creamy white flowers that age pink and eventually to almost maroon. They remain on the plant for several months and I remove them only when the new foliage begins to push up in mid-spring.
I also love the opportunity to visit other gardens around Nashville and wherever I may be traveling for business or pleasure. Some recent trips to Cheekwood, our local public garden and Glen Leven, a property owned by The Land Trust for Tennessee, offered up these spectacular winter and early spring garden gems.
Edgeworthia chrysantha--Chinese Paperbush
Chimonanthus praecox--Wintersweet (flowering at Christmas!)
Arum italicum--Italian Arum (Leaves appear in autumn and remain throughout the winter.)
And a very special little narcissus, known throughout the South as a "Sweetie" because of its intoxicating fragrance, Narcissus jonquilla (flowering about a month early).
So if, like me, you live in USDA Zone 6b or warmer, you too can enjoy many of these winter-flowering beauties. Many are hardier than Zone 6, growing even into Zone 5 (and in the case of the Narcissus, Zone 4). They'll just flower at the end of winter instead of throughout the winter months like they do for me.