Hellebores can be an unassuming little plant for most of the year but during the depths of winter it can be one of the most reliable plants that provide just a little hint of what’s to come for the rest of the gardening year.
Almost every garden has at least one single hellebore. At this time of year every garden centre will be filled with them and almost every gardening magazine and TV programme will also be championing them too. These plants have grown increasingly popular over the past decade and new varieties have been bred that come in a wide spectrum of flower colours and shapes. Not all are what I would call tasteful but you can be certain there will be one that will suit all of our varied requirements and taste.
Helleborus niger is commonly called the Christmas Rose due to an old legend that it sprouted in the snow from tears of a young girl who had no gift to give to Jesus. In the Middle Ages, people strewed the flowers on the floors of their homes to drive out evil influences. They blessed their animals with it and used it to ward off the power of witches. It was also believed that witches employed the herb in their spells and that sorcerers tossed the powdered herb into the air around them to make themselves invisible. Any part of the plant is best not ingested as it can cause burning of the eyes mouth and severe irritation of the throat.
The vast majority of plants available are of seed-raised hellebores, (hybrids), which are tough, adaptable and invaluable for early season colour. There are plenty of other varieties for just about every situation in the garden but the bog standard hybrids are probably what strike me as being the best garden plants. They are unfussy and great for those tough shady corners where not much else will grow. Sometimes they will even surprise you by self-sowing in the most unlikely places – in cracks in the paving, in gravel driveways or even in rough grass but they’re not perfect in every situation, in many places one of the other hellebores species may be worth trying.
Hellebores grow best in a moist humus rich soil, they dislike acidic soils and most don’t like sun baked borders. They are perfect for planting under deciduous trees and shrubs where they will flower early in the year when the tree is dormant. After flowering they also provide an elegant groundcover, with their architectural leaf structure.
I often use Helleborus orientalis / niger in new planting schemes but like to combine them with ferns like Dryopteris wallichaiana, Polystichum setiferum or Dryopteris erythrosa. After the hellebores have flowered I like the combination of contrasting texture between the fern fronds and the hellebore leaf. They also work well with other spring flowering herbaceous plants and bulbs. Try mixing in drifts of snowdrops or aconites or mix with pulomaria, brunnera and dicentra to provide a spring border that will flower from the depths of winter through to the beginning of summer. Enjoy these little beauties, I guarantee you will not regret introducing them into your planting schemes. tab motilium price