Inspired by a comment on the Shades of Green facebook page, I thought I would share a list of good hellebores to plant in moist, humous-rich areas of your garden, under the shade of deciduous trees and shrubs, to give a long season of colour from late winter into spring.
Members of the Helleborus family are generally tough cookies, and their stiff, architectural foliage provides structure to woodland planting areas throughout the year. Remove the old foliage in late winter, once you start to see the new flower heads pushing up and you will be rewarded by crisp, shiny, intensely green new leaves in the spring. Mature plants resent being moved, but if you are lucky you may find lots of seedlings that you can harvest and grow on to plant elsewhere.
Traditionally the earliest flowering hellebore is Helleborus niger, the Christmas rose, which can flower as early as mid-December, although mine never shows itself in Scotland until at least mid-January. They can be a bit fussy about location, and tend to have a shorter lifespan than the hybrids.
In my garden the first hellebore to bloom is, I think, a variety of Helleborus orientalis, the lenten rose, which can sport its dusky pink flowers as early as November in mild year but which waited until the new year before gracing me with it’s presence in 2013. I say, I think, because it came my way, without a label, via plant sale about 10 years ago. There are many, many varieties of Helleborus orientalis and Helleborus x hybridus, with flowers colours ranging from pale pink to dusky purple, with both single and double flower forms, but all nodding, so that you have to tip the flower heads up to enjoy their full beauty. I like to pick some of the flowers and float them in small bowls of water so that I can admire them more fully.
Helleborus x ericsmithii is another good early flowering hybrid that can flower from late winter through to early summer. It has white flowers, tinged with green, and the foliage has a silvery glow. I have just had to find a spot for H x ericsmithii ‘Winter Moonbeam’ which has pure white flowers and lovely veining on its foliage.
If you have the room, Helleborus argutifolius is a fantastic architectural plant, with stiff, finely lobed leaves and apple green flower sprays. It does take up more space that its smaller cousins, but it creates great evergreen foliage texture. H. x sternii is an hybrid of H. argutifolius and also produces flowers in sprays. The ‘Blackthorn Group’ has attractively veined leaves too.
So, go and have a look in your local nursery and see what gems you can find to enliven your shady garden areas. You won’t be disappointed!