Helleborus orientalis (Lenten rose):
Passed along to me by my neighbor, these lovelies bloom when little else does (late December or early January, on until April or early May), persevere under impossible conditions, require virtually nothing in the way of attention from me, and have bold evergreen foliage.
Consider this plant as an alternative to English ivy for a groundcover beneath large trees. (English ivy is invasive in many areas of the United States.) Hellebores grow in dry shade, even at the bases of oak and maple trunks. But they’ll perform equally well in slightly more hospitable areas. I grow mine under azaleas and rhododendrons, at the bases of trees, in the dry no-man’s land by my front steps, and in clusters in beds throughout the garden.
They are expensive at the nursery or garden center, but if you have a neighbor who grows them, he or she probably has plenty to share. If you can get a mature clump or two in flower, in time to drop seed in your garden, you’ll be set. Hellebores reseed generously but are not at all difficult to manage. I have successfully transplanted tiny seedlings, like the ones below, by sticking my finger into the dirt, shoving the plant in, and walking away. I don’t even water them in, unless it’s exceptionally dry.
By the way, seedlings are generally much more congested than this. Simply pluck them up and put them where you want them. The plants do take about three years to flower from seed, but they leaf out quickly and provide a fresh evergreen groundcover as they grow. Wouldn’t you rather look at this than at mulch?
The only real maintenance I do is to cut off any tatty looking foliage when I see it. Not a burdensome task.
Pine Knot Farms is an excellent grower of these magnificent plants. Give them a try.