HARDY PERENNIALS: HELLEBORUS

H. niger. There may have been a time—and there may still be a place, for H. niger to live up to its name ‘Christmas Rose’, but nowadays it scarcely applies. Not that it matters greatly, for it is still the depths of winter when the. first white, golden centred flowers appear amid the deep green leaves. It likes a cool root run, neither soggy nor starved and though its preference is for some shade competition with tree roots ‘should be avoided. A light much is helpful, applied in spring and young plants are easier to establish than old. Indeed, divisions of old plants often languish rather than grow. Increase can be made by seed, but this is a slow process. It is usually cheaper to buy young nursery grown plants and having chosen a semi shady place, prepare it well, then after a year or two in which to become firmly established it should then flower year after year, from January to late March. H. orientalis: these are much more adaptable and reliable than H. niger. Flowering from February to April, they carry the name ‘Lenten Rose’. They come in a colour range, from white, through shades of pink to plum purple, at a time when old leaves, which have been evergreen for 10-11 months have faded. As soon as the flowers begin to fade, then a new crop of leaves, giving a canopy over the roots which helps keep the soil cool in summer. H. orientalis can withstand considerable summer dryness, but what they most prefer is high or dappled shade, or the non-southerly aspect of a wall. They are not fussy about soil, but respond to a light mulch after flowering.

Occasionally named varieties are offered, but these are much more expensive. Old plants can be divided in autumn, though this may spoil flowering for one season, and when planting, roots should go well down, leaving the crown buds only just below ground level. Stems vary in height from 10 to 18 inches but in the deep purple red species, H. atro-rubens are rather shorter. H. colchicus is pink flowered in clusters and apart from flowering sometimes in autumn as well as early spring, has evergreen leaves. H. corsi-cus is also evergreen, but the leaves come from stems which may loll over somewhat and lengthen till a large terminal head of pale apple green flowers open in April. This, and its hybrid H. sternii make quite large plants and from seed, take 3 years to flower fully.

HELLEBORUS niger

HELLEBORUS niger

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