If there’s one plant guaranteed to lift your spirits on a wintery day, it’s the helebore. Flowering from December right through to spring, it come in a gorgeous range of subtle colours from whites and pale greens to dusky pinks and purples. There are also fancier varieties with double petals or stunning markings. The best way of choosing a plant you love is to buy it now while it’s in flower. For most impact, group at least three together in the front garden, by a path, or where you can see them from a window on a cold day. Most helebores like dappled shade so planting them under a deciduous tree such as a magnolia, is ideal – that way they’ll be shaded in summer. Then mingle snowdrops or cyclamen amongst them to really give your garden the winter wow factor.
Six of the best:
Helleborus niger Also known as the Christmas rose, this is a dainty white hellebore with yellow stamens and low growing leathery evergreen foliage. It’s great for containers and one of the earliest to flower (Jan to Feb). Likes partial shade. (30cm H)
Helleborus x hybridus (H. orientalis)
Flowering from Feb to April, this is a popular hellebore with large dark green leaves and a wonderful range of flowers from the deep pinky/red ‘Havington Red’ to the striking ‘Yellow Lady’ with maroon speckling. The dark plum varieties such as ‘Single Dusky Grape’ (Ashwood Garden Hybrids) look great offset with snowdrops or bright blue Pulmonaria ‘Blue Ensign’. They like partial shade. 45cm H
H. x sternii
More sun tolerant than most, this is a striking hellebore as much for its marbled grey foliage as the pretty clusters of pink tinged green flowers (Feb – March). It’s happy in full sun or partial shade. ‘Silver Dollar’ is a stunning variety with steely silver serrated leaves – best in containers in a sunny sheltered position. 40cm. Helleborus lividus is similar but less hardy with wonderful marbled bluish green leaves and clusters of pink-tinged apple green flowers (Jan – March). Ideal in a large container in a sheltered semi shady pot with well-drained soil (35cm H)
H. ‘Anna’s Red’
This is a really popular hellebore with masses of large pinky red flowers on tall dark stems (Feb – April). It also has attractive marbled foliage and is happiest in partial shade (50cm H).
H. argutifolius This larger more sculptural helebore is a fabulous foliage plant with handsome serrated evergreen leaves that’ll give your garden evergreen interest and structure all year round. The pale green clusters of flowers in pendants are in bloom from January to March. Looks great with pink-red flowers of Pulmonaria rubra. Likes full sun or partial shade. (50cm H)
Another large architectural variety with masses of bell shaped pale green flowers with purple edges (Jan – April) above clumps of palm like dark green leaves. It likes partial shade. Tall at up to 80cm.
How to grow
Helebores like moist, rich well drained soil in dappled shade – unless its one of the more sun tolerant varieties listed above. Try not to let them dry out as they’re establishing. If they need a boost give them a mulch and feed in spring with something like pelleted chicken manure. Prune off last year’s old foliage in January to show off the new buds and flowers as they grow and deadhead after flowering if you want to avoid them self-seeding.
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This article first appeared in the January issue of SE22 magazine.