One of the most delightful blooms of late winter and early spring. Hellebores are also one of the longest lasting flowers in the garden. One of the most popular varieties is the Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) shown here.
Family: Ranunculaceae (Buttercup)
Botanical Name: Helleborus
Common Names: Hellebore, Christmas rose , Lenten rose, St Agnes' rose, clove-tongue
Foliage: Leathery, dark to medium green, deep cut palmate leaves. Semi evergreen.
Flowers: Clusters of downward pointing, bowl-shaped, flowers on stems arising from ground level. Wide range of shades, colours and markings available (depending on variety).
Flowering Period: Dec, Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr.
Soil: Moist, fertile and humus-rich soil. Chalk, clay or loam. Any pH.
Conditions: Semi-shade, north, east or west facing. Sheltered from cold winds.
Habit: Clump forming.
Type: Semi-evergreen or herbaceous perennial.
Hardiness: Hardy in most areas of the UK
A good choice for winter colour in the borders or in damp deciduously shaded areas. Can also be grown in containers or window boxes. Pot grown specimens can be brought indoors for short periods, if kept in a cool shaded location. Tall stemmed varieties also make good cut flowers. For the best display, cut the blooms just after they open.
As one of the few perennials to bloom in winter it is well worth growing at lease one Hellebore somewhere in the garden. Particularly in a spot that is easily visible from the house, as little else will be in flower at this time.
All varieties require shade and cool moist conditions but will often do just as well in full sun. If left to their own devices they can spread to form large colonies. Massed drifts of these winter bloomers can provide swathes of colour and structure below deciduous shrubs and trees.
Plant pot grown plants in October or March. When planting, ensure plenty of humus or well rotted compost is incorporated into the soil.
All varieties appreciate an annual mulch of well rotted compost, applied in the early part of the year before flowering.
Remove old leaves to improve appearance.
In mild winters aphids can be a problem on young shoots and buds. Use a suitable insecticide for severe attacks. Slugs and snails can also damage young leaves. Can be affected by leaf spot.
Propagate by seed or by division in autumn. Many varieties will spread freely by self-sown seedlings. These can be potted up and grown-on but will often not be true to the parent plant. To propagate named species, divide mature plants in autumn.
There are many different cultivars available, in a wide range of dark and pastel colours.
Helleborus atrorubens deep purplish-rose flowers from February to April. Height 12-18 in (30-45cm). Slow growing and does not self seed.
Helleborus corsicus has large upstanding clusters of attractive pale greenish-white flowers. Height up to 2ft (60cm). Flowers from January to March. Easy to grow but requires some shade.
Helleborus foetidus (stinking hellebore). Height up to 2ft (60cm). Dark green leaves topped by big sprays of pale green bell-like flowers, often tinged with purple.
Helleborus x hybridus (see image) provides some of the longest lasting blooms, often finely speckled. Colours range from white to pink, plum and near black. Height and spread 18in (45cm).
Helleborus orientalis (Lenten rose). A range of hybrids with colours from white to deep pink and purple. Height up to 2ft.
Helleborus niger (Christmas rose). Although a traditional Christmas flower it often doesn't bloom until January. Evergreen leaves, topped by white, saucer-shaped flowers. Height up to 2ft. The main species has short stems so the flowers can be almost lost amongst the foliage. A better choice is the subspecies H. niger macranthus which has larger flowers and longer stems.