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A Focus on Hellebores

This month we have a focus on Hellebores, a classic plant that through the autumn/winter really is the star of the show bringing much-needed interest to our somewhat dormant gardens. They will happily grow and thrive well without requiring a great deal of maintenance if planted in the right spot. Even in planters, these charming autumn/winter flowerers don’t require a great deal of work.

There are approximately 20 species of Hellebores, as they are commonly known, and 100 varieties. Part of the Ranunculaceae (buttercup) family they are correctly known as Helleborus and are evergreen perennial flowering plants. Despite names such as Winter, Christmas, and Lenten Rose, they are not closely related to roses. 

Originating from mountainous regions where they are protected, they span continents from the eastern Alps through Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Italy to the Northern Balkans. Internationally renowned German breeder, Josef Heuger, is particularly well known for his work with Hellebores, hybridizing many varieties to create stunning collections of the popular plant.

Golden Valley Plants have partnered with Heuger for many years now, as their UK-approved partner. Our Hellebores are grown in-house at our Herefordshire nursery. The Hellebores we produce are a range of famed Hellebore varieties consisting of the celebrated Christmas Rose, Snow Rose, Ice N’ Roses, and Lenten Rose varieties, collectively known as the Helleborus Gold Collection® and easily identifiable in their burgundy pots.

Gold Collection Pot

The Gold Collection® is a collection of premium Christmas Rose, Snow Rose, and Lenten Rose varieties and we offer a variety to choose from that flower as early as October/November through to the spring months. Choose from the white Christmas Rose Hellebore HGC® Diva®, the delicate pink of the Hellebore HGC® Ice N’ Roses® Picotee, or one of the Helleborus x lemperii Hellebores which owe their beauty to being crossed between the Lenten Roses (Helleborus x hybridus) and Christmas Roses (Helleborus niger). Or view our full range and choose your own favourite.

Hellebore HGC Ice N Roses PicoteeHellebore HGC® Ice N’ Roses® Picotee

Hellebore plant history includes many a myth and a few quite unusual stories including one that believes that if an eagle saw you digging up a Hellebore plant, you would die within a year. Another and a favourite of ours is,  if you powder Hellebore flowers, toss them in the air, and walk through them, you become invisible – how useful could that be! If you are keen to read more on plant history head over to Gardening Know How: Getting To Know Hellebore Plant History 

When and where should I plant Hellebores?

Before the ground freezes so ideally between September and December or early spring when the ground begins to thaw a little. They like rich and chalky soil but will also thrive well in places that are not prone to waterlogging. 

Plant them in the right spot and they will be happy for years, they like a little shade, although Snow Roses are more tolerant of a sunnier spot. Deciduous trees or shrubs are often the perfect neighbours as Hellebores can tolerate the milder winter sun.

When should I water?

Like any plant, you need to water them well whilst they are establishing themselves in the garden. Take care, not to over water, this is important to note if you are planting in pots as they shouldn’t be allowed to become waterlogged. They are low maintenance so just keep checking the soil around the base of the plant, if it feels dry it needs to be watered.

Helleborus plants do not require any fertiliser in their first spring. Feed older plants from February onwards and apply a second dressing of fertiliser in midsummer, when the plants grow new roots and initiate flower buds for the next season.

Are Hellbores prone to disease?

They can sometimes suffer from lime deficiency to help with this soils can be improved by working in Dolomite lime or crushed eggshells. 

Aphids can be a problem for young plants, as can slugs and snails, they just can’t resist a nibble, especially on a Snow Rose. So be proactive with slugs rings and beer traps just in case!

If your plant seems dwarfed it could be that nematodes are attacking the route. These are difficult to see and control but it is worth trying some biological control in your garden.

What can you use the flowers for?

Hellebore flowers can be used as cut flowers but they do have a tendency to droop their heads in bouquets so are probably best cut and used on the same day. It’s a good idea to keep them in deep water and score the stems slightly so they take in water and will last a little longer. 

Positioned well they can look stunning as part of a table decoration, use other foliage to support them, and avoid any drooping. If you are having a dinner party let them steal the show on your table by dropping the flower heads into a bowl of water. 

To end our A Focus on Hellebores, here are a few quick questions gardeners often ask:

Do I need to do anything to the leaves?

If you have a Lenton Rose it is best to remove the leaves before it starts to flower in December and January. With other varieties, you can leave the brown leaves until the spring before removing them.

Can I grow Hellebores in pots?

Yes, they require a little more care and a clay pot is useful as it helps the soil and plant to drain and reduces the chances of root rot, remember to use good-quality compost. In pots, they can be placed on patios and balconies so they can be easily seen, perhaps by older relatives who are missing those summer blooms in the garden.

Are Hellebores poisonous?

They are but just remembering to wear gloves, as a precaution, when handling will keep you safe and allow you to enjoy this beautiful plant. They are poisonous to cats and dogs but their foul taste means that they are unlikely to want to eat them so just be aware but don’t let it spoil your enjoyment. As with many plants in our gardens, it’s important to know so you can manage accordingly.

Are Hellebores evergreen?

Yes, they are so you will have interest all year round. You’ll notice that during their flowering season the leaves on some varieties will change colour, the Hellebore HGC® Lisann is the perfect example changing from green to a simple but stunning white flower.

Should I water my Hellebore if it’s freezing but the flower is drooping?

There is nothing to gain from watering during freezing weather. The Hellebore has a tendency to droop or nod its flowers when it’s very cold but don’t worry as soon as it warms up they will lift their heads again – quite clever really!

Can I keep a Hellebore indoors?

Yes, ideally they like to be planted outside but if the ground is frozen you can keep them in a pot indoors until you feel comfortable to plant outside.

Do they make a good Christmas present?

The Gold Collection® comes in an attractive burgundy pot making them the perfect Christmas present. They look great to gift but can also be enjoyed straight away in the garden or as we’ve just mentioned they can be kept indoors for a while. 

Further Reading

Other plant-focused blogs that you may find useful include:

Plant of the Month: Hellebores

Garden Jobs for November

Planting Perennials