Lovely Winter Jewels®Hellebores

Many new double-flowered Lenten roses have been developed by Northwest Garden Nursery in Eugene, OR.

In mid-January, the Portland, Oregon metro area endured a horrid wind, ice, and snowstorm. Temperatures dipped below 15 degrees F and stayed below freezing for 4-5 days. The high winds caused many large Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) trees to come crashing down, sometimes on homes and cars, power lines snapped, and because of the ice, people could not leave their homes. Fortunately, within a week the weather changed, and temperatures went up into the 60’s. And with the milder weather, the cheerful hellebores (Helleborus x hybridus) have begun to defrost and bloom profusely.

Helleborus Withstand Winter!

Here is a hellebore photo taken in my yard on February 2, 2024 showing one of many flowers that have opened after the ice storm.

When I walked out into my garden during the cold snap, the ground was frozen and plants were covered in ice. The new growth and flower buds on the hellebores were frozen. I knew the plants would survive, but probably not the flowers. I was wrong, and I am glad I was! Just one week later, the Lenten roses looked as though nothing had happened. The new growth was emerging and flower buds are continuing to grow. Below photo taken on February 2, showing one of many flowers that have opened since the storm. Some of the foliage was damaged but new growth is emerging that looks just fine.

My Favorite Winter Jewels®

Sparkling Diamond has white double petals and a chartreuse center. (Photo courtesy of Northwest Garden Nursery)

At one time, most hellebores in home gardens had single purple flowers, and the flowers themselves tended to nod downward. Newer selections are now available in lots of fun colors and the flowers are more upright and showy.

Northwest Garden Nursery in Eugene, Oregon has been one of the leading breeders of hellebores and has even introduced the popular Winter Jewels® Series, which are widely available in northwest garden centers. Many of their new introductions are double-flowered and look nothing like an old-fashioned hellebore, and some of the singles are available in spectacular new colors. Here are some of the prettier new offerings.

The following photos are courtesy of Northwest Garden Nursery.

Black Diamond has a true black flower. Apricot Blush is a lovely new variety for gardens.
Picotee Pearl is a favorite! Amethyst Gem has upward-facing double blooms.
Double Painted has spectacular markings. Fire and Ice is clear white with a red edge.

Helleborus Care

Hellebores like well-drained soil amended with plenty of organic matter. Black Gold Natural & Organic Garden Compost Blend is an ideal soil amendment. The plants like some shade, especially in the summer. An area with morning sun would be ideal. They tend to naturalize and are often planted under shade trees. I think that they look their best when planted in large groupings. For comprehensive Helleborus care instructions, click here.

For those gardeners with limited space, try growing hellebores in containers using Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix. Growing hellebores in containers allows gardeners to move the container to an entryway during peak blooming season. Their flowers can provide a very cheery welcome on a winter day.

The photo below shows the wide range of colors that are now available in garden centers. Check out your local garden center now for blooming plants. This is an excellent time to plan, and selecting plants in flower can ensure your choice is the color and style of flower that you want.

Here is a selection of Winter Jewels in the Northwest Garden Nursery test gardens. (Photo courtesy of Northwest Garden Nursery)

I can think of few plants that give gardeners such a variety of early spring colors that hellebores do. They are so easy to grow with minimal care. February is a good month to remove the old leaves, being very careful not to cut any new growth or flower buds. Flowering begins in February, sometimes earlier, and often continues through April.

Blooms in the Ice: The Joy of Late Winter Bulbs

Snowdrops break through the ice of a forest floor in February.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, this past November and early December were very warm and mild.  My tropical red-leaf bananas did not die until a hard freeze shortly before Christmas (almost unheard of), and many gardeners had summer- and fall-blooming plants still in flower.  Neighbors showed me their 3-4 inch spring daffodils that had emerged and asked if they were going to bloom for New Years! Their hopes were squelched in mid-December a sudden blast of ice, snow, and bitterly cold weather arrived. But, there are other winter-blooming bulbs that can withstand the cold and reliably bloom in snowy months.

Bulbs that perform well at this time of year are often overlooked and rarely planted. This is likely because people are generally not visiting other gardens in winter, so they do not have the opportunity to discover the beauty and diversity of winter bulbs.

Hardy Cyclamen

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Cyclamen coum brighten a Seattle garden landscape in mid-February. (Image by Jessie Keith)

While not actually bulbs, the tuberous Cyclamen coum is a superb garden plant for Pacific Northwest winters. The shade-lover forms mats of attractive, heart-shaped foliage and produces many colorful flowers in shades of deepest magenta and white, that bloom in mid to late winter. Even when not in bloom, the leaves have variable colors and patterns that range from green to silver with wonderful variations in patterns of these two colors. The winter-hardy plant (USDA Hardiness Zones 7-9) survives in most areas west of the Cascades and provides a long season of bloom.  (Please note that these hardy Cyclamen species are not the tender hybrid plants that you would find in a florist shop.)

Usually, garden centers will carry two hardy cyclamen (C. coum and C. hederifolium).  The difference is that C. hederifolium tends to bloom in late summer and well into the fall season, with plants still showing some color in November in my neighborhood. In my garden, I grow both species and find them very easy to cultivate. Both have become naturalized under my trees, in much the same way hellebores spread.  I have found that hardy Cyclamen perform best in a soil that is rich in humus or compost, and I add Black Gold Garden Compost when planting.  Especially when planting Cyclamen under and around established trees. The compost helps to keep the soil from totally drying out in a hot summer.

Winter Aconite

The golden flowers of winter aconite are bright and attractive to bees that venture out on warm winter days. (Image by Jessie Keith)

Another winter-flowering tuber not often seen in gardens is winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis).  It is in the Ranunculus family and has single yellow flowers that look like buttercups.  Plant the small tubers in the fall in soil that has been enriched with Black Gold Garden Compost. Once established, these plants will naturally spread and become reliable winter bloomers.  Winter Aconite will also naturalize under trees if left undisturbed.


Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) are some of the best-known of the winter bulbs. The very hardy true bulbs bloom as early as January and produce delicate, pendulous blooms of white dotted with green. These attract bees on warm winter days. The extremely cold-tolerant flowers are often seen peeking up from light snows,  lending unique beauty to the winter garden. Over time they will also naturalize.

Early Crocus

The delicate woodland crocus blooms very early in the season. (Image by Jessie Keith)

The woodland crocus (Crocus tommasinianus) is one of the earliest crocus to bloom, often appearing in February gardens. The delicate pale purple-pink flowers create blankets of color in wooded landscapes and lawns. Once the flowers are past blooming, they will disappear until the next season.

Since the foliage of hardy cyclamen, winter aconite, snowdrops, and similar winter bloomers disappear in the summer, I would suggest adding companion plants with extended interest that grow in similar conditions.  Evergreen hellebores make nice complimentary plantings. Not only do they bloom in winter, but the evergreen plants offer interesting foliage all year long.

At this time of the year, the weather can be cold and not exactly “garden friendly”, but there is still lots to see at nearby botanical gardens. A visit to your local public garden might enrich your plant palette with some unexpected winter-blooming treasures.

Happy New Year to you all, and may your gardens flourish and provide you much pleasure.

“So what’s the point?  The point is to relax and enjoy gardening, remembering that nature is always in charge.”  –Tony Avent, Plant Delights Nursery


Winter Flowering Plants

Viburnum x bodnantense 'Dawn'
Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ adds delightful fragrance and color to the winter garden. (photo by Leonard Foltz)

Recently a friend asked me what my garden looks like during the winter months. I replied that it is “rather bleak”. After thinking about my reply, I decided to take a closer look at my own garden and those around my neighborhood. I am glad that I did because my garden is not as bleak as I thought. This is the time of year when we are not working in our gardens and probably not even walking through them, and so it is easy to forget about some of the winter flowering plants and color they hold. Continue reading “Winter Flowering Plants”