Hellebores – Super plants for winter & spring colour in your garden.
Hellebores are also commonly known as Lenten or Christmas roses & are a welcome sight in the garden from late winter into spring. Many are evergreen & so provide interest all year round. They are hardy perennials ideal for a part or fully shaded spot in a border or pot. They are easily grown in any soil especially humus-rich soil that is reasonably well-drained. They usually flower for 2 or 3 months from late February until late April when other perennials start coming into growth & provide a welcome food source for early pollinators. They are available in a variety of colours – white, white-speckled, yellow, yellow-green, light & darker pink plus some with reddish-purple almost black flowers.
The most common variety of Hellebores are the oriental hybrids (Helleborus hybridus) & are seed raised. They are tough plants requiring little maintenance. They have single or double flowers & are self-seeders. It is best to remove the old leaves just before Christmas down to ground level to prevent disease & allow the flowers to be seen at their best.
Helleborus x nigercors are good for dry soils. They are a hybrid between Helleborus x niger & Helleborus x argutifolius (Corsican Hellebore) & are usually covered in white flowers that fade to green as they mature. Helleborus foeticus also grows well in dry soils in shade providing all year round interest with deeply cut foliage & long lasting pale yellow-green flowers. The older varieties produce flowers that tend to face downwards but newer varieties have more upward facing flowers. Some of the newer varieties are also prolific flowerers.
Choosing Hellebores.
It can be difficult to select just one Hellebore for your garden as there are so many to choose from. Some of the newer varieties are: Helleborus ‘Winter Moonbeam’ which is a prolific flowerer producing creamy-white upright facing flowers that mature to pale-pink then red from February-April over attractive marbled evergreen foliage. Helleborus ‘Anna’s Red’ has lots of single, deep purplish-red flowers with lime-green stamens from late winter into spring with unusual dark stems & marbled, evergreen leaves. 
Plants that can grow in the same conditions & that are ideal companion plants forHellebores.
Hellebores need plenty of space as they can mature into quite large clumps. They look wonderful when planted with Galanthus (snowdrops) or daffodils both spring flowering bulbs & Epimediums or primroses also shade lovers. Cornus (Dogwood)  varieties have attractive, brightly coloured stems in winter & spring depending on the variety chosen. There are yellow, red, orange, bright green or black stemmed shrubs to choose from which can set off the Hellebore flowers wonderfully. Cornus ‘Alba sibirica’ has bright red stems in winter & spring & red autumn leaves. Cornus sanguinea ‘Annie’s Winter Orange’ has unusual glistening reddish-orange bark in winter & has orange-apricot autumn colour. Cornus stolonifera ‘Flaviramea’ had reddish-orange autumn leaves & bright greenish-yellow stems in winter & spring.  Sarcococca (Christmas Box) a beautifully fragrant, hardy evergreen shrub also produces white flowers from December onwards & makes another ideal companion plant.
Cath Sanderson
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