Hybrid Lenten Rose
During the last few days of the holidays I tidied up our garden with my daughter. She had a great time watering plants and inspecting insects. Whilst we were out there sweeping and snipping, I noticed our Hellebores coming into bloom. After the dark days of Christmas this was a welcome sign of spring on its way.
The Hellebore is an evergreen perennial plant with exquisite flowers. They are perfect for brightening up shady spots or using within a ‘woodland’ area of the garden. Hellebores are fully hardy and flower between late winter and early spring. They like a humus rich, well drained soil in partial shade, and won’t like being waterlogged – or too dry.
As Hellebores are naturally mountainous plants, originating between the Alps, the Northern Balkans, Turkey, Syria and China, mulching them annually in the autumn with leaf mould or chipped bark will help retain water in the soil, as well as improving the soil structure. Due to their origins in the mountains, Hellebores can tolerate full sun and drought, but will be happier in moist, dappled shade. Protect them from cold winds and plant them in a sheltered position where possible. Fertilise with seaweed or blood, fish and bone in the spring.
Helleborus niger – image copyright letsgoplanting
Helleborus niger AGM, is the plant that most gardeners know as the Christmas Rose. Legend states that it sprouted in the snow from the tears of a young girl, who had no gift to give the baby Jesus in Bethlehem. It is semi-evergreen, with pretty white flowers to 0.3m in height. Oriental Hellebores are known as Lenten Roses and are also semi-evergreen and grow to a maximum height of 0.5m.
For Helleborus foetidus AGM (Stinking Hellebore) and Helleborus argutifolius (Holly-leaved Hellebore) cut spent flower stems at ground level after flowering. For other species of Hellebore including H. niger, dead head the flowers only.
Stinking Hellebore – image copyright Picton Castle
Large clumps of Hellebores can be divided in early spring – but H. foetidus and H. argutifolius are not suitable for division and should be grown from seed in the springtime. It can take a couple of years after division or sowing for the plants to begin flowering.
Like all other species in the Ranunculaceae/Buttercup family, Hellebores contain protoanemonin and are toxic to humans and animals. Skin contact with a wounded plant can cause irritation, rashes and blisters. Ingesting can cause nausea, vomiting, hepatitis, jaundice and even paralysis.
Helleborus hybridus ‘Ballard’s Black’ – image copyright pomian.co.uk
Hellebores can suffer from pest attack from the Hellebore leaf miner and Hellebore aphid. Hellebore leaf spot is a common fungal disease infecting many species with dark spots. Helleborus niger is the most badly affected by leaf spot, though the tougher leaves of argutifolius not so much. A disease on the rise in the past twenty years is the Hellebore Black Death. As name suggests it is serious, with affected plants needing to be destroyed.
These negative points being said should not deter you from planting some Hellebores in your garden. They are a joy to behold in the winter months and are useful shade loving plants which give good structure to the garden, with their interesting leaves. Plants are easy to obtain currently in garden centres so put it on your to-do list for the coming weeks.