Heavenly helebores for early colour 

The pure white helebores I have in my front garden, shooting up in January from the bare soil are such a joy, making me feel spring is on the way. Helebores come in a gorgeous range of subtle hues from whites and pale apple greens to dusky pinks and deep inky purples, lighting up your garden from now to spring. There are also a few peachy coloured helebores and fancier varieties with double petals or stunning markings.  

The best way of choosing a flower you love is to buy it now while it’s in bloom. 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. Apart from the more sun tolerant varieties, helebores like dappled shade, so planting them in drifts under a deciduous tree or large shrub for summer shade is ideal.  

They look great inter-mingled with snowdrops and cyclamen or other shade lovers such as ferns or Liriope muscari, as well as underplanting late winter flowering shrubs such as sarcococca and Vibernum tinus. Prune off last year’s old foliage in Janurary to show off the new buds and flowers as they grow and deadhead if you want to avoid them self-seeding. 

Your guide to helebore varieties to try:  

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 from the deep pinky/red ‘Havington Red’ to the striking soft yellow ‘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  

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) 

H. foetidus  

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.  

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 roud. The pale green clusters of flowers in pendants are in bloom from Janurary to March. Looks great with pink-red flowers of Pulmonaria rubra. Likes full sun or or partial shade. (50cm H) 

H. ‘Penny’s Pink’ 

This is a real show-stopper (part of the Rodney Davey marbled group) has large flowers from late winter to mid-spring above the silver-marbled foliage. Anna’s Red’ is named after Anna Pavord is also bred by Rodney Davey, with masses of reddy purple flowers on dark stalks with marbled foliage. Happiest in partial shade, and flowering from February to April,. (50cm H). 

H. x sternii  

More sun tolerant than most, this is a striking hellebore as much for its marbled silvery foliage as the pretty clusters of pink tinged green flowers (Feb – March). ‘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)