One plant that gives real pleasure and welcome colour during the late winter months and on into spring is the Hellebore. It’s lovely to see the new leaves beginning to appear in late December and in January the flower stalks start to push up from the centre of the clump opening to a range of colours from white, pinks, plum and the exotic looking purple-black.
Hellebores have several common names – ‘Christmas Rose’ refers to the white Helleborus niger, and ‘Lenten Rose’ is a reference to the period of Lent during which the plant flowers. The term ‘rose’ comes from the shape of the open flower of the hellebore, the coloured sepals (the showy part of the flower) being similar in appearance to the summer flowering rose. The name hellebore can denote serenity, tranquility or peace but has also been used to represent scandal!
Because the plant flowers over a long period, from January right through to May it is a valuable addition to any garden. They do best in partial shade, require very little care, just a mulch of compost once a year and the old leathery leaves cutting back when the new leaves and flowers start to appear.
Most of my Hellebores in my Woodland Garden have been bought from local plant sales and so I’ve ended up with quite a variety of colours. I love the dark veining on deep purple hellebores which show in sunlight and one of the flower types I have is nearly black in colour which is very exotic.
There are a few specimen hellebores in the garden – White Lady is a very pretty example, the white sepals have red spots which give a flash of colour. Harvington Double Apricots has lovely pinky-apricot sepals in a showy cluster and Pink Speckled has pink sepals with deeper rose-pink speckles and Hellebore argutifolius has lime-green flowers which are quite dramatic and beautiful.
Hellebores make a fantastic cut flower and look good in a bouquet mixed with other spring flowers such as narcissi, hyacinths and tulips and spring flowering shrubs like Forsythia and Viburnum. It’s best to cut the flowers when the seed heads start to appear, if the flowers are cut too early they will soon droop in the vase, but flowers with seed heads will have long vase life.
Hellebores can be planted at any time of year so if you have a shady spot that needs filling why not plant a few and enjoy the flowers through the dull days of late winter right through into spring. I’m still cutting mine for bouquets and the flowers look to continue for a week or two yet, I can’t think of any other flower that gives such a long season!