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Xela's Garden

Christmas Rose [V + S]

Genus: Helleborus.

Species: Helleborus niger.

Planted 02.08 Shenstone Samantha's bed
Vistabile lobby bed
01.09 both replaced
03.10 transplanted from Mother's Freeland garden to Vistabile back fence border house end

Hellebores produce gently nodding flowers that open as early as January and carry on until late April. The plants produce large saucer-shaped flowers and are ideal for the front of an early spring border.
In this article

Recommended species and varieties

Hellebores herald the start of the new year, with most plants coming into bloom in early January. They produce attractive flowers and their deeply-lobed, leathery leaves create an attractive evergreen backdrop to spring bulbs and flowers.

Hellebores are native to southern and central Europe and are found primarily in mountainous areas. However, they can survive in a range of other habitats, from light woodland shade to open alpine meadows.

The most popular hellebore is Helleborus niger, the Christmas rose. It's one of Britain's oldest cultivated plants, believed to have been introduced by the Romans. It produces gently nodding flowers that open as early as January and carry on until late April.

H. niger has been crossed with other species to produce a number of interesting hybrids.

* H. 'Louis Cobbett': one of the earliest varieties, with pinkish blooms and dark red stems.
* H. 'Potter's Wheel': perhaps the most famous variety with immense white flowers up to 13cm (5in) across, comprising five broad overlapping petals.

Other hellebores to try include:

* H. purpurascens: purple hellebore with blooms that open as early as mid-December.
* H. x ericsmithii: similar cross with H. x sternii, resulting in pinkish flower buds that open to a greeny white.
* H. x ballardiae: the result of cross-breeding with the slightly tender H. lividus. Short stems of white blooms tinted brownish-pink in bud are held above silver-veined leaves.
* H. x sternii: easy-to-grow hellebore that produces clusters of showy green flowers tinged with pink and purple.
* H. x sternii 'Blackthorn Group': impressive purple stems, silvery-grey foliage and pink-tinged green flowers.
* H. orientalis: the Lenten rose is a popular variety available in a range of captivating colours, from pure white, apple green, pale pink and primrose yellow to plum-purples and black. All may be enhanced by varying degrees of dark-red spotting. The flower outline can be rounded or slightly star-shaped.
* H. argutifolius: the impressive evergreen foliage and subtle green flowers of the Corsican hellebore appear in winter and remain well into summer.
* H. foetidus: commonly known as stinking hellebore, this has elegant and finely divided leaves with lime-green flowers appearing in spring.

Growing tips
Site and preferences

Most hellebores grow happily in shade. They appreciate plenty of organic matter in the soil, topped up with a mulch every spring.

All types prefer a sheltered position away from the effects of strong icy winds in winter and spring that can damage the emerging blooms and leaves.

H. niger isn't the easiest hellebore to establish in the garden but should take to a stony, fertile soil, preferably on the limey side, that doesn't get too dry in summer.

Ideally, seeds should be sown fresh in late summer, but if sown in the spring they'll germinate the following October. Expect to wait about three years for them to produce flowers.

The dark green leathery leaves of all forms of H. niger persist throughout the year but are often laid flat by frost, which opens the centre of the plant to the elements. This allows the flowers to be easily viewed, but these too can suffer from excessive cold.

The old practice of covering a plant with a glass cloche in winter entices a few blooms to open early. These will remain pristine under this temporary protection and can be cut for a long-lasting arrangement.

In a vase it's easy to admire the finer qualities, such as the golden crown of stamens that adorn the flower centres and the speckled pink flower stems, almost the colour and texture of young rhubarb sticks.
Problem solver

Hellebores, like roses, can suffer from a type of black spot that is at best unsightly and at worst fatal. Drenching the whole plant with a systemic fungicide once a month should help to prevent this. Remove the worst-affected leaves.

Other than this, hellebores enjoy a fairly pest and disease-free life.


Photos of this plant

  • Christmasroseshenstonesamantha_sbed09.03.21
  • Christmasrosevistabilebackgarden2012mar14
  • Christmasrosecloseupvistabilebackgarden2012mar14
  • Christmasrosefloweringagainvistabilebackgarden21apr2013
  • Christmasroseyetmoreflowervistabilebackgarden21apr2013

Reminders for this plant

Due over 15 years ago:


Mulch in spring


Mulch in spring

Due about 14 years ago:

Mulch in spring

Mulch in spring

Due about 13 years ago:


Mulch in spring

Due over 11 years ago:


Mulch in spring