The Hellebore Walk

Hellebore 'Calilfornia Dreaming'


Now that I am in my 70's, I really should think twice about starting a new garden! But, as I was doing one of my evening walks, I realized that I had the perfect shady spot to plant Hellebores, under a row of old, limbed up spruces. Leaves have been left there for years from the nearby maple trees. Poking around, I found there was actually really nice soil to plant into. In England, they usually name their gardens. I decided to call this new garden 'The Hellebore Walk'.

Hellebore 'Wedding Bells'


In mid-March, I grabbed three Hellebores from our benches. Once I decided to design this new garden, I went back for 2 more of each. 'Apricot Blush' was sold out, so I picked up three 'Ivory Prince', realizing that the silvery leaves would add foliage interest all summer and fall. The others were still available. So now I have 10 plants in my holding area. The shipment arriving this week has enticed me to add three of the single yellow 'California Dreaming' (shown above) as well as three of the double white 'Wedding Bells' as they will both simply glow in the shade. One last addition to The Hellebore Walk lineup will be 'Frost Kiss Penny's Pink'. This stunning series has silver-veined, really showy foliage that makes the flowers glow.

Hellebore 'Apricot Blush'


  1. Measure the area and then draw it to scale on graph paper. I use 1/4"=1 foot grid. Do that in pencil! My border is going to be 40 feet long and 5 feet wide with some pathways inserted so I can easily visit with my neighbors as it runs along our property line.
  2. Locate any existing plants on the graph paper. For me, I will be locating the trunks of the spruces.
  3. Spend some time thinking about your criteria. These are the things that you want from this garden and the limitations that the site may impose.

Here is the criteria for my new Hellebore Walk:

  • Shade, with a bit of late afternoon sun peaking in under the branches.
  • Root competition.
  • Far from the hose, so I will be watering only during establishment.
  • Deer browse is constant.
  • Low maintenance, which I hope to achieve by planting densely in layers, using spreading groundcovers as mulch.
  • Next, I started thinking about what I already have in my yard that I can divide. Zizia and Packera are two deer-resistant, easy care, shade tolerant perennials that I now have plenty of.

Packera aurea
  • Finally, I worked through the possible new plants I could add to fill in between the large groupings of Hellebores. I wrote down Aquilegias (columbine), Iris cristata (our native crested iris), Heucheras, Mertensia (Virginia bluebells), and fall blooming Solidago caesia, my favorite goldenrod that thrives in deep shade with root competition.

 Iris cristata


  • I drew a Succession of Bloom Chart to track how I was doing in balancing the color throughout the growing season. Horrors! The summer months were devoid of color. Foliage structure from the Heucheras and Hellebores will help, but my design process continues... I will decide which summer bloomers to plant here.


A week has gone by and I have had time to dig a bit deeper and create a detailed planting plan for my new Hellebore Walk garden. First, I got out my graph paper and mapped it out. I located the tree trunks of the spruces as well as the maple trees on both sides. 

Next, I sited the Hellebores on the plan. I grouped like varieties together down the border and created a code for each type. I added the division I am going to dig up of the Packera aurea (golden groundsel) and the Zizia aurea (golden Alexanders). I added a grouping of 5 Iris cristata (native crested iris) as per my original concept.  Then I added a grouping of Soidago caesia (bluestem goldenrod) for late fall color.

Heuchera 'Autumn Bride'

In choosing a Heuchera, I decided to go with Heuchera villosa var. macrorrhiza 'Autumn Bride'.  I have always admired this plant, especially because it blooms in late summer and early fall with 24" tall white spires that are constantly covered in pollinators. It is also really hardy and long lasting. This choice means that I have now dramatically increased my late season interest, as I used three groupings of three plant each!

Next, I focused on filling out my Succession of Bloom Chart with color in the summer months. Keeping my criteria in mind, I added Digitalis ambigua (perennial foxglove) as I have lots of self-sown plants I can dig up and move. I also decided to dig up some feverfew seedlings. This is a self-seeding herbal daisy (Tanacetum parthenium) that is totally deer proof and gives me lots of color PLUS flowers for cutting. I don't care that it self-sows, that doesn't worry me, as it just means more free plants for me. I can always move some down to the "back forty" and let them battle it out with the asters, 'Lemon Queen' sunflowers, and other aggressive plants.

Digitalis ambigua


Studying the plan, I realized I need some golden foliage to brighten up the shade. I made a very daring choice in adding Tradescantia 'Blue and Gold', a sterile variety of spiderwort with golden leaves and bright blue flowers. I know that if I cut it back from time to time, it will rebloom for me. Plus, the strap-like, narrow leaves add a much needed textural contrast to the bold leaves of the Hellebores and the Heucheras. I put a few clumps of Doronicum pardalianches, the tall greater Leopardsbane, up against some of the spruce tree trunks. Finally, I decided to add another one of my favorite goldenrods, Solidago rugosa 'Fireworks'. This blooms in September, into October, and is tough as nails, totally deer-proof, and able to grow in tree roots. The bright golden flowers arch downward, an effect I love.

Tradescantia 'Blue and Gold'

Mertensia virginica

Solidago 'Fireworks'

Solidago caesia

With my chart looking sufficiently populated with color in every month, I found myself free to play with the last few plant choices. I chose an edging of Pachysandra procumbens (our native herbaceous pachysandra with mottled leaves and really pretty white flowers in April) for the top of the border where I curved it out a bit. I popped in a few herbaceous Caryopteris divaricatus 'Snow Fairy', not for the funky, small blue fall flowers, but for the white and green foliage structure. And I tucked in a few Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) for April/early May blue flowers, placing where they wouldn't leave a gap when they go dormant in the summer. 

Caryopteris divaricatus 'Snow Fairy'

Finally, I added bulbs to my chart. Snowdrops for February and early March. Corydalis 'Beth Evans' for March and April. 'Thalia' daffodils for April. Colchicum bulbs for September. 

Corydalis 'Beth Evans'

Here is the finished plan for my Hellebore Walk and the Planting Key:

Planting Key:
AB-Helleborus 'Apricot Blush'
BD-Helleborus 'Blue Diamond'
CARY-Caryopteris divaricatus 'Snow Fairy'
CD- Helleborus 'California Dreaming'
DIG- Digitalis ambigua
DP- Doronicum pardalianches
FEV-Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium)
FK-Helleborus 'Frost Kiss Molly's White'
GL-Helleborus 'Golden Lotus'
HEU-Heuchera 'Autumn Bride'
IP-Helleborus 'Ivory Prince'
PACK-Packera aurea
PACHY-Pachysandra procumbens
SOLCAE-Soldiago caesia
SOLFW-Solidago 'Fireworks'
TR-Tradescantia 'Blue and Gold'
ZIZ-Zizia aurea

Here is the final version of my Succession of Bloom Chart for my Hellebore Walk:

I made a list of plants I need to buy and a list of plants I need to dig. NOW I can place the Hellebores I have been buying over the past 3 weeks as I know exactly where in this 40 foot long border they are going to be planted.

So this, my friends, is the process of designing a new garden. This is how my mind works, methodically analyzing the CRITERIA as well as the SUCCESSION OF BLOOM. I also considered the FOLIAGE STRUCTURE, the juxtaposition of bold and finely textured leaves, and the different shapes of the flowers that would be in bloom at the same time. 

Let the spring planting begin in earnest!



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