If you garden in areas with deer and lots of shade, you should try growing hellebores, an easy-care perennial that’s hardy and cold tolerant.
Hellebores bloom early in the spring or even in January or February in mild winters. And many varieties will keep blooming for months.
Here’s one called ‘Honeyhill Joy’ that I shot at the NY Botanical Garden:
And some early purple ones, also at NYBG:
Known commonly as the Lenten rose because of when they bloom, clump-forming hellebores won Plant of the Year honors from the Perennial Plant Association in 2005. They like dappled shade and rich, fertile soil that drains well. In flower, they reach a height of 12 to 16 inches.
Colors run from speckled creams to rich purples and include yellows, pinks, greens and reds. Many of the blooms appear almost two-toned.
Here are a couple of hellebores in Linda Falk’s Larchmont garden:
Like peonies, they have deep, temperamental roots and resent being transplanted or moved.
They do particularly well under old deciduous trees, which provide full sun in winter and spring and a broad protective canopy of leaves in summer.
In most varieties of hellebores, the flowers face downward so a hillside site that allows you to look up at the flowers also works well.