Hellebores are a firm favourite in the garden at this time of year; they are highly valued for their splashes of colour in the winter landscape. They originated in Eastern Europe and Asia and were brought to Britain and Ireland during the sixties. Most people have heard of the Christmas Rose or the Lenten Rose or even the Stinking Hellebore; all three are varieties from the same family of Helleborus. The Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger) has stark white flowers which appear in winter and contrast beautifully with the plants’ dark green leaves. The name “niger” is understood to come from the plant’s “black root”.
The Stinking Hellebore (Helleborus foetidus) as its name suggests, is supposed to have a less than fragrant smell, though I have yet to hear anyone complain! Its flowers are pale green with red edges. Lastly, the Lenten Rose (Helleborus x hybridus) is a hybrid between Helleborus orientalis and other species. These are perhaps the most exciting of the varieties as their petals range in colour from white to yellow to shades of pink and purple; the lighter shades often bearing splashes of a deep maroon colour.
Hellebores are a clump-forming perennial, prefer dappled shade and grow well in moist, well drained soil. They are hardy in the Irish winters and are, for the most part evergreen. The cup-shaped flowers can often be hidden by the dark green foliage so gardeners are encouraged to cut away the leaves as the flowers emerge. Hellebores can suffer Hellebore Leaf Spot, a fungal disease, and cutting away the leaves can help prevent the spread of the disease. Also, by exposing the flowers in this way, we help garden insects to pollinate the flowers allowing for the propagation of new plants.