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Helleborus - Growing Guide
Commonly known as ‘Hellebore’
There are 15 separate species of hellobore which originate from woodland and scrub in central and southern Europe. Many of them come from chalk or limestone soils which makes them universally popular in all UK gardens including those who garden on chalk here.
Hellebores have many common needs and requirements. They are rhizomatous plants which are either clump forming and deciduous (most species) or almost shrub-like with leafy biennial stems (H. argutifolius, H. foetidus). Their flowers appear in winter or early spring on upright stalks of 18in or so in height and are in a range of colours but principally white, cream or green although they can also be black, blue-black, pink, yellow or red and some with spots.
Hellebores are most effective in a border or shrub border as one of the harbingers of spring (especially H. niger, the ‘Christmas Rose’). They can also readily be allowed to naturalise in woodland glades or by ponds providing their leaves are allowed to die down naturally and not mown off beforehand. Those which are larger growing with biennial stems are particularly suited to this where the clumps have room to spread.
All the hellebores which we grow will tolerate heavy of loamy neutral to alkaline soil in sun or dappled shade. Actually these plants seem to do best in those parts of the garden where little else grows well which generally means dampish and shady without the best soil.
They do however relish being planted with a good dollop of dung or leafmould in the planting pit. Annual mulching with leaf mould when they are dormant in the autumn helps to feed the plants and encourage the clumps to expand. They dislike very dry or waterlogged soils and prefer shelter from cold winds.
The great leap forward in recent years has been the arrival of many new colourful cultivars of H. orientalis, the ‘Lentern Rose’, and other inter-specie hybrids. This has meant that there is now much more demand for these plants and much more colour choice.
Helleborus are best propagated by division of the clumps after flowering. These plants are very promiscuous and growing them from seed can well produce very varied results. H. foetidus and H. argutifolius are not suitable for division so seed is the only option here.
The main pests of helleborus are slugs and snails although they are generally vigorous enough to grow through most damage.
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