Hellebore by Jake Croft, Adlington Hall Head Gardener
March is an exciting time in the garden, seed sowing is in full swing, buds are starting to swell and burst, and the days are getting a little longer and warmer. But I thought I would focus on one of my favourite springtime plants the Hellebores for this month’s blog.
Hellebores belong to the Ranunculaceae family (Buttercups) and have around 20 species in their genus. What I like about them the most is they come in lots of different colours and patterns. The hybrids provide thousands of possibilities. Some of the most common Hellebores in gardens are:
H. foetidus also known as the stinking hellebore, it only smells unpleasant when you crush a leaf. I would say it is mostly grown for foliage. Maybe the smell is to put people off eating it as all Hellebores are poisonous, as the ancient Greeks used to great effect. Although small amounts are said to cure insanity and madness, but If you are mad, I wouldn’t recommend it, probably best to see a doctor still 😉.
H. niger also known as the Christmas Rose, often seen for sale in garden centres and florists, the flowers are white and age to pink\clay red. It rarely flowers in the garden for Christmas but with the unpredictable weather we have nowadays who knows!
My go to favourite is Helleborus x hybridus (Some call it by the incorrect name of H. orientalis hybrids). They are such interesting and varied flowers and are easy to grow. The breeding of them began in Germany in the early 19th century and then here in the UK shortly after. The flowers can be spotted, veined, flat, star shaped, cup shaped and nodding. The colour range is large with whites, reds (not true red), pink, green, bi colour, Black and many in-between.
Looking after Hellebores is fairly low maintenance when they are planted in the right spot. They can cope with sandy or clay soils if it drains well. They like deep soil with plenty of organic matter to condition the soil, for example a good mulch each year is always welcome. Try to give them a site with full sun during winter and early spring, they are not true woodland plants. They can cope with drought and are most likely killed because of over watering than under watering.
To cut the leaves or not to cut the leaves – That is a quite common question, honestly it doesn’t matter too much. I remove any damaged or infected ones to stop the spores of blackspot. But generally, if they look healthy, I leave them be.
Plants can be divided but it is said that they do not like the root disturbance very much so I would recommend doing it to the largest ones only and have a go at raising them from seed. You could create you own hybrids and have some fun. Its best to sow the seed fresh and keep moist.
Some good companions for Hellebores are Euphorbias, Pulmonarias, Galanthus and Primulas.