Talking hellebores with landscape architect Susan Ogle

by Linda Hubbard on April 5, 2013

Growing up in Palo Alto, landscape architect Susan Ogle often visited her grandparents, who lived in Los Altos Hills. They gardened, and she remembers, in particular, their daphne and sweet peas. A seed, so to speak, was planted.

Susan majored in landscape architecture at UC Berkeley and has been  passionate about her profession ever since. It gives her the ability to work both indoors (when planning) and outdoors (when implementing). Plus, she likes that there are always new plants to discover — both brand new varieties and older ones that she knew once but had forgotten.

hellebore_assortedWe sat down with her at her Menlo Park home, which features a garden abundant with one of her favorite flowers, hellebores, the focus of our discussion.

InMenlo: What prompted your interest in hellebores?

Susan: I first discovered them when I was apprenticing with Mary Gordon. She liked them and used them. I’d never seen them before. Back then — 30 years ago — they were almost all green and didn’t have the pretty rims they have today, but they were pretty cool flowers, nevertheless. In the last decade — and more so in the past five years — the colors have really expanded.

InMenlo: Are they growable here in Menlo Park without a professional’s attention?

Susan Ogle with hellebore_assortedSusan: They grow fabulously. I don’t do anything to mine except trim them. They’re available at local nurseries, although color selection varies.

InMenlo: They seem to be a “face-down” flower, which is different from most flowers. Does that diminish their display in a garden?

Susan: Even facing down they’re lovely, and some are actually prettier from the backside. The reason they hang down is so that their pollen doesn’t get wet and destroyed. Hanging down keeps it viable. That said, if you’re not a person who goes out into your garden to sit and enjoy it, hellebores may not be the plant for you.

InMenlo: How frequently do you incorporate them in your landscape design?

Susan: I’d say easily 30% of the time. They are deer resistant. They are one of the first plants to start blooming — early February — and they’re still blooming through April. I don’t do as many multiple colors when working for clients but rather select so that the result is a big swath of color.

hellebore_facing down

Photos by Frances Freyberg

One Comment

Catherine April 05, 2013 at 7:05 pm

I too love hellebores and grow several types in my garden, though I have not seen most of the gorgeous specimens that Susan holds in your photos. They are very easy to grow (would have liked a tip or two on trimming them). I would add a few notes: they reseed generously but are not a nuisance and are easy to pull out if they land in unwanted places. They are extremely toxic, at least to humans, if ingested, and many people experience a skin rash when handling them so gloves are recommended. Check this website for more on this topic: All the above notwithstanding, they are delightful!

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