A winter winner for lovely flowers and foliage at this time of year
The Christmas rose, Helleborus niger, is one of those iconic plants of winter that always lifts the spirits, while marvelling at how something so beautiful and elegant can withstand the rigours of seasonal weather.
An evergreen perennial with leathery, multi-fingered leaves, the Christmas rose is found growing wild in Switzerland’s mountains, southern Germany and Austria through to northern Italy. Here, the flower colour is more variable, with purple and pink forms also known.
Preferring moist, semi-shaded conditions and alkaline soils, the Christmas rose loathes dry shade and will struggle beneath trees in dry, rooty soil.
With the advent of bringing a wider diversity of winter flowers for gardeners, it has been crossed with other species to create hybrids that are often intermediate in character and flower earlier than they would do normally, but bring pinkish, or yellowish tones and the stronger habit of the other parent species. H. nigercors is a cross with H. argutifolius (formerly H. corsicus) and H. ballardiae a marriage between H. niger and H. lividus.
Hellebore hybridists such as Hugh Nunn and his daughter Penny Dawson (www.twelvenunns.co.uk; tel: 01778590455) have created the Harvington double form, also known as ‘Harvington Petticoat’.
In recent years, Josef Heuger from Germany, has introduced the Helleborus Gold Collection, or HGC for short, with much improved flowers, earlier flowering and stronger habits. Besides being planted in borders, they can also be grown in pots.