Christmas or Lenten roses are the earliest of perennials, the true harbingers of spring that make their appearance in late winter or very early spring. But, they are not roses at all. Hellebores get their common name because the flowers resemble a small single rose that blooms during the religious season of Lent. The nodding, cup-shaped blooms are supported by leathery, coarse foliage. Flowers are white, green, pink, purple and almost black, some with mottled variations. Typically they grow 30-45 cm (12-18 inches) high with a spread of 30-45 cm (12-18 inches) wide.
How to Grow:
Christmas roses prefer light, dappled shade in a sheltered site.
Reliably hardy and evergreen in most cases, they grow best in zones 6 to 9. A winter mulch of loose leaves or straw is advisable in very cold or windy spots.
Christmas roses bloom best in fertile soil. Improve the soil by top dressing with compost. When you see new growth in late winter, apply an all-purpose fertilizer.
Hellebore require moisture early in the year during their flowering period. However, they tolerate moderate drought during the summer quite well.
Hellebores grow best in well-drained soil.
Divide in the spring after flowering, or whenever plants become crowded. Hellebores are easy to grow from seed. The attractive seed pods swell rapidly as the weather warms and pop open, spilling their cargo of plump black seeds over the soil. These seeds mature in the moist warm leaf litter under the parent plant. As the weather turns colder the seeds germinate, usually in late December or early January. It takes 2-4 years before you see your first flowers. Hellebores can also be propagated by division. The best time is early spring or late fall.
When to Grow
Plant young specimens in the spring or late summer. Space them 30-45 cm (12-18 inches) apart.
To show off these early flowers, cut most or all the leaves back to the ground (most of them are probably showing damage from winter weather anyway). After they bloom, a new flush of foliage appears. Hellebores make great companion plants for galanthus (snowdrops), primula (primroses), tiarella (foam flowers), epimediums (barrenwort) and pulmonaria (lungwort).
- ‘H. niger’ (Christmas rose) is the most well known type. Flowers are large, pure white or sometimes tinged with pinkish-green.
- ‘H. orientalis’ come in a myriad of forms and colours. Probably the best forms are those (irrespective of their colours and markings) that hold their heads up so that you can see them.
- ‘H. foetidus’ (Stinking Hellebore) has a compact more finely divided, elegant foliage than most hellebores. In spring the almost ferny clumps are joined by clusters of nodding, lime-green flowers held on thick stems just above the tops of the foliage. The name alludes to a slightly skunky odour.
- ‘H. sternii’ is part of a group of hybrids. It usually has distinctive greyish-green foliage, with spiny or toothed edges on the leaves. Flowers are in clusters, usually chartreuse or green and tinged with purple.