Helleborus niger –The Christmas Rose

You know it’s nearly Christmas……. when the first thing that greets you at your local garden centre is a vast display of Christmas roses in full flower.

This lovely little plant is, of course, not a rose at all but a semi-evergreen (and often herbaceous) perennial, with neat and very dark green leaves, large white, flat faced flowers, yellow stamens – and seen on many a Christmas card. It makes a nice – and long lasting – Christmas present, as the plants can be enjoyed in pots indoors or on the patio, and then be planted out.

The plants seen in garden centres will often have been grown in tunnels to ensure that they are in flower in time for Christmas. When planted in the garden, there is no guarantee that the plants will be in flower in time for Christmas (in my garden, they normally flower over Jan –Mar), but nevertheless, in my opinion, they are worth their weight in gold in any garden – bringing a really elegant bit of cheer in the coldest of months.

They are one of the few plants that really thrive in shade and dappled shade. In fact they positively hate full sun. They love neutral-alkaline fertile soils and are even happy in those with a high clay content, although they do prefer a bit of moisture and protection from the coldest of winds. An annual mulch is also appreciated. They are therefore great for underplanting taller shrubs, which also provide them with the shade they need. And to maximise the view of the lovely flowers, damaged foliage is best removed. Their only real drawback is that they are poisonous if eaten.

There are plenty of other readily available members of the Hellebore family, all also providing much needed very early (Jan-April) flower colour in the garden, and with slightly differing requirements – so useful for other situations and locations. For example:

  • Helleborus x hybridus / orientalis (the Lenten rose) – for colour variety (there a huge number of cultivars available) – and great at the foot of a hedge
  • Helleborus argutifolius – with bright green foliage and yellow-green flowers – and really suited to dry shade
  • Helleborus x sternii – with magnificent rosy, glaucous-green foliage and pink stems and pale green flowers – and happy in sun

And there are many more.

So, please just bear in mind, that a Christmas rose – or any member of the Hellebore family – isn’t just for Christmas!

Image credits: Helleborus NigerHelleborus x hybridus, Helleborus argutifolius, Helleborus x sternii and Pixabay.

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