Botanically known as hellebores but more commonly known as the winter rose, Christmas rose and lenten rose, these beautiful and delicate plants are a welcome addition to any garden. There are around 20 different species to choose from and it comes in a handsome array of colours, from opalescent white to deep burgundy. Often admired for their long-blooming winter colour, their evergreen foliage and ease of care, these ground-level plants provide some much-needed colour in your winter garden.
Don’t be fooled by their delicate appearance, though – they are surprisingly resilient, cold tolerant and some will flower through snow. That being said, they’re also fine with high summer temperatures as long as they’re kept moist. It is, truly, an incredibly versatile flower which survives almost anything.
Planting Your Winter Roses
Winter roses require very little maintenance, yet will flower for months. They like the sun in winter and shade in summer, so will thrive in those hard-to-fill, partially-shaded areas of the garden (too much sun means their leaves can wilt). We recommend placing your hellebore roses beneath deciduous trees and shrubs for an elegant floral display.
Plant out in early to late autumn. Hellebores flourish in humus-rich, moderately fertile soil. Try to avoid sandy soils, peaty soils and water-logged conditions. Next, make sure you add plenty of rotted matter and manure compost to your planting hole.
When planting your winter roses, dig the hole twice the size of the existing pot. Then, position your plant with the soil level, where the roots meet the stem, as they require some air circulation. Water well and keep moist whilst establishing. Once established, they are dry tolerant, although it’s best to surround with leaf mulch in late December to reduce drying out the soil.
Leave them be: don’t disturb them unnecessarily, as they don’t like being moved around. If you do decide to move them, the whole plant should be dug up carefully. When splitting, the large root system is easier to handle if all the soil is washed off before dividing the root, then separate out into single crowns. Replant the crowns in well-prepared soil and keep shaded and moist.
Not Just For The Garden
Winter roses are also great as cut flowers and by plunging the stems up to their necks in boiling water before placing them in a vase, you will further increase their longevity.
Three of the Best
Helleborus niger (Christmas rose)
These are bowl-shaped white flowers embellished with a crown of bright yellow stamens. Meanwhile, the leaves fade as they mature from green to a rosy-pink. The plant grows to around eight to 15 inches in height. They appear from November to February.
Helleborus orientalis (lenten rose)
The lenten rose bears clusters of saucer-shaped flowers that come in a multitude of colours – such as creamy white, lavender, pink, mauve or smokey purple. Their blooms may be plain or patterned. They bloom late winter into early spring and grow between 18–24 inches in height.
Helleborus x ericsmithii
Helleborus x ericsmithii is an unusual hybrid hellebore. The evergreen foliage is a rich, deep green, while the flowers are a pale greenish-pink, darkening as they mature. They grow to a height of 18 inches. They flower from late November all the way through January.