Sometimes referred to as ‘Christmas Rose’ or ‘Lenten Rose’, hellebores often herald the start of a New Year, flowering in early January and continuing through to March. These plants are exceptionally hardy and will thrive in a number of different environments, with nearly every garden having a spot which is suitable.
Visitors to Broadview Gardens can see a number of different named varieties of H. orientalis hybridus as well as a large number of un-named seedlings.
During a warm winter these may have been flowering since January. Guided tours to learn more about hellebores are available by request. In addition, should you wish to start your own small collection, the plants are on sale in Broadview Garden Centre from November.
Snowdrops and hellebores in Broadview Gardens
Photo of one of the hellebores in Broadview Gardens
Native and non-native Hellebores
Helleborus foetidus (“Stinking Hellebore”)
H. vesicarius differs from the rest of the genus in almost every respect. The foliage resembles a luxuriant buttercup, and dies down in summer. It has basal leaves as well as stem leaves (most have one or the other). Although the flower is similar to that of H. foetidus, the seed pod is enormous, and is probably the plant’s most striking feature.
Originally found in Sichuan Province west of Chengdu in 1869 growing at an altitude of 8000 feet in open places on north facing slopes. Seed was first sent to Britain in 1991, where several hellebore experts are growing it. The plant at Kew flowered for the first time in 1997.
Helleborus Thibetanus, which can be seen in Broadview Gardens
Pink Hellebore at Broadview Gardens
Helleborus X hybridus
H. X hybridus has three subspecies – orientalis which has creamy-white flowers, abchasicus with reddish-pink flowers and guttatus with spotted flowers.
Sometimes known as H. multifidus subsp. Serbicus, H. torquatus is a very variable plant. The purple flowers are supposed to be a distinguishing feature, but many of the plants have flowers of green, brown and purple with blue-green interiors, or occasionally all purple.
H. multifidus has four very variable subspecies. They are differentiated partly by the areas in which they grow, and also by the number of leaf divisions – but as older plants tend to have more finely cut leaves this is not always helpful.
H. atrorubens is a small growing plant whose purple flowers are drooping and cup shaped when they first come out, rather like a small purpurascens. This species is not to be confused with H. ‘Atrorubens’ of gardens, which is now known as ‘Early Purple’ and is a much larger plant altogether.
H. purpurascens is extremely variable, flower colour ranging from rich purple (with deep red new leaves) through purple with green interiors, and pale mauve-pink, to dove grey. In the wild it is found in more open situations than many hellebores, often growing in alpine meadows, but it will do well in leafy soil in dappled shade.
H. dumetorum is a small scale plant with green flowers and about eleven narrow leaflets. It is not often seen in gardens, probably because of its size, but would make a very pretty woodlander. It likes shade and moist leafy soil.
H. odorus has larger flowers and broader leaflets – up to eleven in number. The flower colour varies from rich dark green to yellowish green, with occasional coppery tints. The scent varies as well, and is sometimes non-existent. Planting among deciduous trees and shrubs is advisable.
H. cyclophyllus has the largest flowers, usually green, but sometimes cream or yellow. It grows on grassy slopes or at woodland edges. This species also appreciates shelter from frosts and drying winds.
A yellow spotted hellebore in Broadview Gardens.
A white-spotted Hellebore, which can be seen in Broadview Gardens.
Helleborus argutifolius (Corsican Hellebore)
Formally known as H. corsicus, these hybridise with each other producing fertile offspring, and also with H. niger, but in this case the offspring are infertile. H. argutifolius likes a sunny position, but will also grow in shade.
H. lividus requires protection in this country, mainly from winter wet. Hybrids from H. lividus tend to inherit its reddish coloration.
Helleborus niger (“Christmas Rose”)
Helleborus niger has two subspecies – the most widespread is H. n. subsp. niger, while H. n. subsp. macrantha grows only in Northern Italy and parts of Slovenia.