Hellebore How To: they’re heaven for city gardens
credit: Ashwood Nurseries
Hellebores can be a great choice for city gardens: they thrive in sheltered, shady spots; their long-lasting flowers shine through the winter gloom and they’re even lovely indoors –float the blooms in a bowl of water. Philip Baulk from award-winning specialist Ashwood Nurseries explains how to get more from hellebores.
Hellebores are one of the real harbingers of spring. The pure white Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) is well known from Christmas cards, but it’s the Lenten rose (hybrids of Helleborus orientalis) that offers all the variety and it’s much easier to please. Over the last twenty years, breeders have worked their magic with these hellebores to create healthy, robust plants with long-lasting flowers that will thrive in most garden situations. All they ask for is a deep fertile soil, rich in humus, and some dappled shade and they will grow and flower happily for many years without any need to disturb them.
The choice of colours is really huge these days and flowers can be single, anemone-centred or fully double while the base colour can be overlaid with spots or blotches. The nectaries too can be olive green, yellow or maroon, sometimes surrounded by a deep maroon ‘star’. The flower heads hang like bells and when gently raised to eyelevel, they reveal some magical combinations of colour and form. No garden, however small, should be devoid of hellebores.
Hellebores blend well with winter aconites, hardy Cyclamen coum and of course snowdrops, and shrubs such as the many varieties of hamamelis or perhaps Cornus mas which can fill a corner of the garden with scent and winter colour. All hellebores are hardy and will recover quickly if snow or frost occurs, usually blooming as if nothing adverse has happened.
For those with smaller town gardens, it’s quite possible to grow hellebores in larger containers for several years, but eventually they will need to be divided or planted in a border. Pot culture is more labour-intensive as far as watering and feeding in summer is concerned and the top 5cm of compost will need refreshing annually to maintain healthy plants. The one big advantage of container-growing is that pots can be placed in a focal position when the plants are in flower and then removed to a shadier spot for the summer months.
Keeping hellebores happy
Just after Christmas, many people like to remove the old season’s leaves to reveal the newly emerging flower buds. This does no harm to the plant and makes it easier to mulch around them with garden compost, or even spent mushroom compost if available. If you want more plants, allow hellebores to seed, otherwise, remove the old flower stems after flowering to tidy the plant. Watch out for greenfly and treat accordingly, otherwise hellebores are generally trouble-free.
Just remember though that hellebores are poisonous and will cause severe discomfort if eaten and irritation if sap comes into contact with the skin.