Helleborus and Brunnera in Fall

Helleborus and Brunnera in fall leaves
Helleborus and Brunnera in fall leaves

As the fall temperatures bring down the perennials in the garden one by one, I’m enjoying the plants that are evergreen, or at least keep their leaves until the deeper frosts. Here is a garden border that still looks good at the end of October. The Helleborus will keep its foliage until spring, but the Brunnera macrophylla (Siberian bugloss) will lose its leaves when we have colder weather. We had our first frosts back in mid-September, so the stoic Brunnera have provided long interest in the garden. I took the above photo this weekend, just before the snow hit.

In the picture above, the Brunnera macrophylla ‘Looking Glass’ plants are at the front of the photo in a light-toned silver colour. In the middle are the wonderful leaves of Helleborus ‘Ivory Prince’, which just keep going year round.  Then at the back of the picture are the etched leaves of Brunnera macrophlla ‘Jack Frost’. The ferns on the right of the shot have mostly died back now.

Helleborus 'Ivory Prince' with flowers in October
Helleborus 'Ivory Prince' with flowers in October

The Helleborus ‘Ivory Prince’ foliage is still in pristine condition, preserving its dark green with a slightly marbled effect. On the upper left of the picture, you can see some have even retained the yellow flower bracts since April. If you can count them as a flower, then these are definitely my longest blooming perennials. :) I wonder if they will still be on when the new flowers emerge next April? Because we have good snow coverage in winter, the Helleborus leaves are still in good shape in spring, with just a few that need tidying up.

Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost' leaf detail in October
Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost' leaf detail in October

‘Jack Frost’ is a most photogenic plant. Above is a closeup of  a ‘Jack Frost’ leaf, showing the fabulous patterns created by the green veins running through the light silver leaf. The stained glass effect created by the green and silver is fascinating on an individual leaf, and very showy on a group of plants. These Brunnera have conserved their leaves through a number of frosts down to -4º C (25º F).

Brunnera macrophylla 'Looking Glass' in October
Brunnera macrophylla 'Looking Glass' in October

‘Looking Glass’ has a more overall silver colour, with much narrower green lines through the leaf, and a green rim. The silver grey colour reflects a lot of light, so it stands out in the shadowy areas. As your eyes follow along a shady garden bed, they stop to rest on the brightness of  ‘Looking Glass’.

Helleborus 'Ivory Prince' and Brunnera macrophylla 'Looking Glass' in fall
Helleborus 'Ivory Prince' and Brunnera macrophylla 'Looking Glass' in fall

Here is a nice contrast between the dark green hellebore leaves and the light-toned Brunnera leaves. This is another Helleborus that still has kept some of the yellow flower bracts from six months ago. All of these perennials are planted at the base of a willow tree, and thrive in this location.

As many perennials retreat underground to survive the winter, those that keep their leaves through the first frosts are invaluable in the late fall garden. Tonight the temperatures are supposed to drop to -10º C (14º F) so even the tolerant perennials like Brunnera will most likely die back finally. However, the Helleborus will still be green when the weather warms up next weekend, and the snow melts. I’m still enjoying gardening, and I’m not ready to retreat inside and look out the windows at conifers and decorative sticks yet, so I really esteem the Helleborus, Asarum, Heuchera, Tiarella and other semi-evergreen perennials that beautify the shade garden still.

30 thoughts on “Helleborus and Brunnera in Fall”

  1. It looks like that we have the same plants in our gardens! I have a lot of helleborus here and the most of them I have sow early in this season. I have Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ who has been a big plant here, and this autumn I bought ‘Looking Glass’ as well.
    Sometimes I have trouble to get them survive the winter here, like B.variegata with much white on their leaves. Do you have the same problem in your garden?

    It is nice that the weather is warming up, because then the winter is getting shorter. The snow has melted here too, so the foliage of the evergreens are so nice to look at.

    1. Marit, I haven’t tried the Brunnera with cream variegation, just the ones with silver on their leaves like ‘Jack Frost’, Looking Glass’ and ‘Mr. Morse’. They have all been hardy here, down to -40º C (-40º F). They are in medium shade, deep shade, and dappled shade, and they all grow very well. In this section they are planted with the Helleborus and some silver coloured ferns, which make a pretty grouping. There are also some Aruncus aethusifolius (dwarf goatsbeard) on the left near the tree trunk.

  2. It’s amazing how the brunnera hold up into the fall. A tough customer.

    I know what you mean about not being ready to head inside just yet. My fall flowering pots of kales, mums and grasses at the front entrance are still going strong and I hope to keep them as long as I can. Then, yes, I will put out the dogwood branches. (I guess!) :)

    1. The Garden Ms. S, I’m holding onto the feeling of gardening for as long as I can this fall. I still enjoy circulating around the garden, looking at the plants, although the last couple of days it involved wearing my boots through the snow. :) I actually do like the look of snow on evergreen branches, but it’s just that it goes on for so long. I’m not quite ready for the planning and staring out the window stage yet.

      Marit, I’ve read that silver tinged foliage is not as lacking in chlorophyll as white and cream coloured foliage, so that might be why they do better. I have some Athyrium ‘Ghost’ ferns behind the Helleborus and Brunnera, and the silver coloured fronds go well with them, too.

      Anne Tanne, the cyclamen sound very useful for the site, and attractive as well. It would be great to have the evergreen foliage underneath the bare branches, very pretty.

      Birgitta, even now with a bit of snow on them, the Helleborus look like starfish holding up the white powder with stiff leaves. It is supposed to warm up this weekend, so this first snow should melt, and the garden will be green again.

      Barbarapc, it is unfortunate about your Brunnera. I wonder if it is the heat or dryness? For some reason they come through the season with practically perfect leaves here. I was out looking at them today, after it went down to -7º C (20º F) last night, and they are still green and silver under the snow. I’m surprised they are holding on this long.

      You lucked out rescuing those plants. It sounds like you got some interesting perennials, and it will be fun to watch them bloom next year, to see what colour hellebore they are.

  3. I haven’t tried my plants in -40 C, because it is seldom below -25 C here. But the variegated Brunnera seems not to thrive below – 15 C here. I have tried them twice with the same result, they just died when the spring came.

    Helleborus and silver Brunnera was a nice group. Maybe I copy that! ;)

  4. One of my fall and winter favorites is Cyclamen hederifolium. I have them growing under some century-old beeches, that don’t tolerate anything growing beneath them from mid-spring till late summer. But in september my Cyclamen appear, with beautiful flowers from mid-september till half november. And from october till spring there is the foliage. The leafs have the shape of your Brunnera-leafs (but smaller), but have a different – but also very interesting – pattern.

  5. I’m amazed at how well your Brunnera is doing – mine was smacked with a nasty dark brown blight that reduced its leaves to muck and death. This is why I love blogs – so good to see what my plants are supposed to look like! Isn’t it terrific to see just how hardy H. ‘Ivory Prince’ is. Yesterday I transplanted a new Hellebore (variety unknown) from my neighbour’s garden – house sold and to be raized. He shared a number of plants with me & I’ve got my fingers crossed that I’ll see them sprouting in my garden come spring.

  6. Beautiful foliage Northern, the shape of the Hellebore leaves is beautiful, and the colours of Brunnera are so lovely. Snow already? We’ve avoided it so far, other than a few flakes, but I’m sure it won’t be long til the first heavier snowfall. We’ve already had some hard frosts, the ground is pretty hard now, I’m glad I’m done planting bulbs for the year.

    1. Rebecca, today the snow is melting, so it might be gone by the weekend. Although it weighed heavy on the plants, both the hellebore and Brunnera have recovered, and their leaves are great, so it still looks like a garden.

      I think I’m all done with planting too, unless I happen to see some bulbs on sale, and the weather warms up. :)

  7. We seem to share many favorites in the garden; I also love Hellebores, Brunneras, Heucheras, Tiarellas, ferns… just to mention a few. My biggest concern in my Seattle garden is the lack of shade to grow many of these favorites. I’ve always loved shady, soft gardens, and now most of mine is in full sun. A good learning experience, yes, but not entirely what I would vote for…. Have a great weekend, Liisa.

    1. The Intercontinental Gardener, a lot of gardens move towards shady as their trees mature, and I like the little shade gems too. However, I save my few part sun areas for favourites like lilac and peony.

      Easygardener, ‘Jack Frost’ has been very hardy for me too, and hasn’t required much maintenance. Our recent snow melted, and the Brunnera leaves have all bounced back.

      Tant Grön, I was looking at some of the other Helleborus x ericsmithii, similar to ‘Ivory Prince’ to add to the garden, but they are rated for warmer zones. I might give them a chance, and see how they do, since I really admire their terrific foliage and upright flowers. I’ve been very pleased with the 3 silver Brunnera, since they coordinate well with other shade plants.

  8. Thank you for visiting my blog! I was very surprised to find a comment in english…Yes, I also love the hellebores. They are just perfect all year. And it´s very tempting to start collecting, with all those lovely varieties.
    I will certainly take a closer look at the brunneras. I have only one plant in my garden, and it is hidden in a place which I seldom visit this time of year.
    I really hope the weather will stay mild for a bit longer!

  9. ‘Jack Frost’ and ‘Looking Glass’ are both beautiful plants! But such cold temps and snow! Already! My wimpy southern blood could never survive your winters. I would have to hibernate under a thick layer of blankets, like your plants! Today temps are into the 70s here, sunny with fresh breeze. Perfect!

    1. Debsgarden, I’m always curious about what allows certain perennials to keep their leaves under adverse conditions, while others sensibly drop them at the first hint of freezing temperatures, retreating underground to survive. Some have more leathery textured leaves, a waxy type coating or small hairs, but I wonder what else they have in common. In any case, I’m very grateful for the plants that tough it out, and decorate the garden through late fall and winter.

  10. Hello there Northern Shade !
    You have spot lighted my favorite plants : )
    I love my hellebore and can’t wait to see them all come to life with their flowers next Spring .. and the brunnera .. I have to say I would recommend “Silver Lining” to add to your collection .. it has survived its first year remarkably well and looking gorgeous still .. along with Jack Frost, Mr. Morse, and King’s Ransom .. I am very impressed with them all plus my one and only pulmonaria Moonshine ! I think it would mix in with your collections very well : )
    Love seeing this post !

    1. Joy, I was out today, and the snow had melted off of the Helleborus, but the leaves were still extra shiny from the water. They looked very pretty.

      Thanks for the info about ‘Silver Lining’. It sounds like a terrific Brunnera, and I will have to keep my eye out for it. I looked around after you mentioned it before, but I don’t see it being offered here yet. Perhaps next year, or I will have to search further online.

    1. Sigrun, these Brunnera are growing really close to a tree trunk, where many perennials don’t want to grow. I thought these ones were sterile, and had to be reproduced vegetatively, so it would be interesting to see seedlings. You could get a lot of unique variations then.

  11. I think that brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ is one of my favourite perennials whether in flower or not. It took some time to establish but has been brilliant for the last couple of years. The clump has grown rather large now so I will be dividing it next year. This will be the first time that I will have divided it so any hints would be much appreciated. I like ‘Looking Glass’ too but my plant is still very much on the small side.

    1. Anna, my Brunnera that are squeezed into the tightest root pockets under the willow are the smallest, but others under the trees with more root room are a substantial size. I’ve let them grow to larger clumps and haven’t divided most of them yet. Their leaves have maintained a nice appearance so far this fall, despite many frosty nights.

  12. I didn’t discover Hellebores until a few years ago, but I’ve fallen in love! They’re such interesting plants, with lovely flowers and evergreen foliage. Do you leave the foliage on through the winter? That’s what I’ve been doing, but I’m not sure it’s recommended.

    1. PlantPostings, I leave the leaves on, because I enjoy seeing the foliage in spring after the snow melts. However, we have fairly reliable snow coverage here, so that helps protect them from drying out over winter, and I also leave the fallen tree leaves over top of them for extra protection. Almost all of the hellebore leaves make it through, and I just clean up the few that don’t in spring. With our short growing season, the hellebores are really valuable for the lush green so early in the year. Plus, those pretty flowers are so early, too.

  13. October 27, 2011
    I just purchased a brunnera macrophylla , Siberian bugloss, Jack Frost….and wondered if I could keep it in a rather cool house over the winter…and then plant it in the yard next spring?

    1. I haven’t tried to overwinter one indoors, so I’m not sure. If the ground outside hasn’t frozen up yet, you could try planting it, and covering it up with lots of fall leaves to help insulate it for the winter, since it won’t get much time to establish itself. Overall, I’ve found Brunnera to be very hardy. They are one of the last of the deciduous plants to lose their leaves in the fall.

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