Hellebores are one of the most popular and best-loved winter flowering varieties. They provide much needed colour and flamboyancy in an often grey winter landscape. Sometimes known as the Christmas or Lenten rose, these beautiful blooms are in fact part of the buttercup family. No other bloom will provide such elegance and colour through the coldest months, displaying delicate cup-shaped flowers with variable shades, patterns and stature. They are perfect for brightening up shady areas during late winter and early spring. Some species are grown for their striking evergreen architectural foliage alone.
Hellebores are evergreen or semi-evergreen, although the foliage can look a bit battered in winter, it can be removed in late winter/early spring. Given that hellebores flower early in the year they are a good source of nectar for any emerging solitary bees. Hellebore flowers nod downwards which can make it difficult to see the lovely delicate interior of the flower. If you can, it’s a good idea to plant them on a bank or higher up, so you can look into the flowers. Hellebores are really attractive and are one of those plants whose flowers look good as they fade.
With their dark green foliage and flowers ranging anywhere between pure white and deep, plum-purple it’s good to get the most from your hellebores. As large, clump-forming perennials it’s important to give them enough space to form a good strong root-ball and showcase their beautiful flowers. But around them, you can give the whole garden a lift by planting various Galanthus (snowdrops) for a touch of class or Narcissus (daffodils) for that splash of bright yellow to off-set the different colours of the hellebores.
Favourite varieties of hellebores include;
• Helleborus x hybridus which bears clusters of saucer-shaped flowers coloured white, pink, green, mauve or smoky purple. Blooms may be attractively flushed at the edges and heavily speckled in the centre. Unlike some others, this variety holds their heads up so you can see them.
• The Corsican hellebore, Helleborus argutifolius sends up weed resistant clumps of handsome, claw-like foliage of cool jade-green in spring. By January every stem is topped by clusters of pendant, bowl-shaped apple-green cupped flowers.
• Helleborus niger ‘Christmas Carol’ is a particularly lovely variety of Christmas Rose that bears gleaming white blooms with a central crown of prominent yellow stamens. Flowering from December through to mid spring and often over the festive period, the blooms gradually develop a pink flush as they mature. This hellebore makes a fabulous addition to shaded borders where it will also attract pollinating insects to the garden.
• Helleborus x ballardiae ‘HGC Camelot’ is a clump forming, semi-evergreen perennial with leathery, glossy, deeply-lobed, dark green leaves and, from mid-winter to early spring, upright stems with pink buds opening to lightly fragrant, single, outward-facing, pink-flushed, cream flowers with prominent yellow stamens.