Hellebores are a shining example of how beautiful winter planting schemes can be. Yes, there are superb evergreen or winter-flowering shrubs such as daphne or witch hazel and other floral beauties such as camellias out now, but it’s these charming, hardy, mostly evergreen perennials that really hold a place in people’s hearts.
I think it must be their versatility, low maintenance and shy beauty that makes them almost collector’s items these days, much like their winter companion, the snowdrop. And like the snowdrop, hellebores’ trademark sweetly nodding blooms that often hide exquisite colour and markings have to be lifted and examined closely to be enjoyed to the full. These days there are some varieties whose habit is more upright and showy, so you can see their pretty faces a little more – try sumptuous ‘Black Swan’ or ‘Harvington Pink Speckled’, which show themselves off well.
Hellebores are perfect for pots, adding vibrancy to your patio in the cold season – and this way they can be near your back door, all the better to see and enjoy them. You could plant your own hellebore bed, coming into its own this month with a feast of varieties, but perhaps featuring grasses and other spring, summer and autumn bulbs to pop up in other months for interest. A lovely natural setting for them would be tucked in a shady woodland-style bed, with bergenias, Cyclamen coum, snowdrops and winter aconites, and a few small evergreen grasses to top it all off – perfect!
There are now so many fabulous species and varieties to choose between, from the new hybridised, colourful double blooms of ‘Harvington Double Chocolate’, to the back-to-basics, natural pure white Helleborus niger, or Christmas rose, which is seen more in garden centres.
As for upkeep, hellebores appreciate an annual spring mulch around them with some compost or well-rotted manure, and in containers, a dash of tomato feed wouldn’t go amiss in spring, too. Keep an eye on them and remove old leaves, firstly so that you can see the pretty blooms more, but also to prevent fungal black spot from spreading. After flowering, you can simply deadhead the blooms and let their leaves shine quietly for the rest of the year.
MUST-BUY PLANT… Spindle
Spindle ‘Emerald Gaiety’
A very low-maintenance, but elegant evergreen shrub, with mid-green rounded leaves edged in white. The perfect backdrop for more jazzy plants.
Spindle ‘Paloma Blanca’
Its lovely year-round leaves grow anew in spring as attractive white ‘candles’ atop older deep green ones. These leaves almost look like pretty white spring flowers.
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