Photo/Illustration: Jennifer Benner
The speckled Corsican hellebore (Helleborus argutifolius ‘Janet Starnes’) comes from the garden of Janet Starnes, an Oregon plantswoman and nursery owner. Believed by many to be the same plant as ‘Pacific Frost’ (H. argutifolius ‘Pacific Frost’), ‘Janet Starnes’ has variegated leaves that are heavily spotted with white and are ideal for lighting up a shade garden. From a distance they look like silver.
This perennial, which is evergreen in my Oregon garden, grows to 2 feet tall with thick stems. Beyond the appeal of spotted leaf color, the leaves have a curious texture, with edges that are toothed as if they had been trimmed with pinking shears. In midwinter in my garden, clusters of sizable yellow-green flowers appear, blooming for months, sometimes bending the stems to the ground with their abundance.
Speckled Corsican hellebore is hardy in Zones 6 to 9. It flourishes in well-drained soil with ample moisture, in sun or shade, although its variegation is more dramatic in shade. I love it at the base of a tree, with winter-flowering snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis, Zones 3–9) for a color echo, and with ferns and hostas to keep it company later in the season. Mine grows in dappled shade underneath a Japanese snowbell tree (Styrax japonicus, Zones 6–8), where its white-speckled leaves resonate with the snowbell’s white June flowers.
For a striking winter combination, try ‘Janet Starnes’ at the feet of red-flowering ‘Yuletide’ camellia (Camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’, Zones 7–8), below ‘Diane’ witch hazel (Hamamelis X intermedia ‘Diane’, Zones 5–9) with tiny red flowers along its bare branches, or underneath winter shrub honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima, Zones 5–8) with its intoxicatingly fragrant white flowers. To emphasize the speckled leaves, repeat similar foliage tints some distance away in the same border with silver ‘Excalibur’ lungwort (Pulmonaria ‘Excalibur’, Zones 4–8) or white-edged Hosta ‘Francee’ (Zones 3–8).