A Gardening Journal

Today in the Garden of a Lifetime: 'Thanksgiving' Hellebore

With so many plants settling down to their preferred Winter state of leafless stems (or, even, no stems at all thanks to a retreat back to the base), any that proceed in reverse—expanding their leaves and bursting into bloom—are not just a thrill. They're a shock: Instead trailing off in Fall, this is their high season, their peak. They're not just denying the chillier, darker season, they're reveling in it.

 

All Summer, my colony of Helleborus niger 'Thanksgiving' is jostled and overgrown by its herbaceous and deciduous neighbors. But they're easy-come, easy-go: After a few frosts, nearly all leave the stage clear for the hellebore. Only the dramatic weeping branches of Caragana arborescens 'Walkeri' maintain a solid level of interest year-round. True to its name, by Thanksgiving the hellebore's flowers are emerging. By mid December, the floral display of this now-mature colony is so prominent it catches my eye even from second-floor windows. 

 

Helleborus niger Thanksgiving from window 121715 640 

 

There are forms of crocus, colchicum, snowdrop, and allium that flower in late Summer or even early Fall. Depending on your climate zone, any number of shrubs (witch hazel, mahonia, osmanthus, and camellia in particular, plus the stray rose) might be in flower then, too—let alone the most well-known Fall flowers of all, mums and asters

 

But in climates colder than Zone 7, by late Fall the garden's tide of flowers is at its lowest ebb. Even in a densely-planted, full-throated garden such as mine, the garden's theme has shifted to details of bark and berry as the billowing, transgressive masses of warm-weather stems and leaves have retreated behind the garden's layout of uncompromising geometry: lines that are straight, and greet other lines only at right angles or in parallel.

 

But then, there's the enduring show of 'Thanksgiving' hellebore, sprawling and flaunting as never before.

 

Helleborus niger Thanksgiving from window cropped 121715 640

 

The large flowers demand to be appreciated close at hand, even though this means that I'm using a kneeling pad and my behind is higher than my head.

 

Helleborus niger Thanksgiving fingers 121715 640

 

Far from a dash to center stage followed by a hasty retreat, individual hellebore flowers take a long time to mature. The yellow anthers of the flower on the left are just beginning to expand, while those of the right-hand flower are still furled like kernels of corn on the cob.

 

Helleborus niger Thanksgiving fingers closer 121715 640

 

Other flowers are just buds. Will the show last into January? The weather itself might be rough into March, but after December 23, each day will be minutes longer than the last. With the increasing sun, flowers in particular—and life in general—will creep back into the garden.

 

 

Here's how to grow Helleborus niger 'Thankgiving'.

 

Here's how glad-to-see-you this hellebore is even when flowering during persistent snowfall.

 

 
 
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