A beautiful and bewitching plant with a shady past. Legend has it that one of these plants (as part of a herbal mixture) was responsible for the death of Alexander the Great, and witches used hellebores for the awakening of demons. Back in the present day, these perennial garden plants with elegant flowers are perfect for brightening up shady areas in late winter and early spring.
At the start hellebores are often hidden by their large leaves, so a good morning is spent cutting back last years tatty leaves to make way the flower buds begin to emerge, which will quietly go about their own business untill this time next year. Cutting back the leaves also limits this year’s new growth to catching black spot and exposes the flowers so the tough little insects that are braving this cold spring can pollinate the flower and ensure a good seed set is produced.
Some flowers heads will be left for seeds to fully ripen up until summer and sown into 3 inch pots containing a good quality compost to be planted in shady patches next spring.
This year it became clear that the red hellebores are just that bit later than the blacks, greens, yellows and picotees, whose earlier buds were ravaged by mice.The Lenten rose is not a good cut flower, but the stems are less prone to the flagging if you steep them for thirty seconds in boiling water. We prefer to float the flowers like boats in a shallow dish of water where you can savour their interiors and appreciate the gift they provide in these last few weeks of the season.
There is a spectacular range of hybrids, as the breeders of the H x hybridus are in their stride. There are pure whites, lime greens and yellows, and pink fading through purples to the very darkest slate blue. Some have a dark picotee edge, while others have spots. The flowers hang two to three from a stem at about a foot or so, and if you can plant them on a bank you can enjoy the inner markings without having to stoop to see them. They will light up a late spring for certain.