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Hellebores: Christmas and Lenten Roses

Ilona Erwin

During the winter of 2009, I purchased some potted hellebore plants on clearance from Whole Foods Market. I had read about the Christmas Rose many times in gardening books over the years, and their fresh creamy white blooms fairly sang out to me, so I promptly snapped up three pots (one is featured in my photo, below). I kept them on a sunny windowsill until it was time to plant them in the spring, and wrote in my blog:

I don’t know why I like hellebores so much, they bloom when I have little to do with my garden, and the ones outside are very shy; but they are very fine indoor plants, at least so far. Now that I’m thinking about it, I should transplant a start of those to a more visible and prominent place. In the potting soil my new plants droop when dry, but a splash of rejuvenating water causes them to recover. The flowers also yielded some seed! I was sort of surprised about that.

Christmas Rose

My plants in the window

Those plants made it through a very hard winter in the garden this year, albeit well covered in what was record snowfall. Nothing protects plants better through the winter than a nice blanket of snow, which we rarely have in the proportions we saw this year. Whatever the reason for their good health, my sale priced Hellebore niger plants bloomed beautifully this spring, and had strong attractive foliage.

My research had offered up the information which I included in that blog post….

 

Hellebore niger

The name of these newly acquired hellebores is “HGC Jacob”, which is sort of an unwieldy name for a very pretty flower. The “HGC” part of the name stands for “Helleborus Gold Collection”.

The Christmas rose’s Latin name is Hellborus niger, of the Ranunculaceae family, related to buttercups and Trollius, and thus poisonous: “Parts of plant are poisonous if ingested”. It was used medicinally in ancient times, one of the applications being a treatment for insanity, but since it can cause cardiac arrest… I doubt if that is the way you want to end your mental distress. A better way is to look at the flowers blooming away with abandon at the bleakest period of the year. That will do your heart good, as it does mine!

Hellbore niger

Years later, Jacob Hellebore

The growing conditions are part shade to shade, although some experts say full sun is fine. I bet that expert doesn’t live in the South, though. They like moist soil with organic matter, but my Lenten rose grows in a somewhat dry spot under a Maple tree.

I do think it would be happier with more moisture, though. I think it is safe to say that once established these plants will tolerate and survive less than ideal conditions. Originally from areas with limestone soils, Helleborus niger should like my plot just fine. It is very hardy, to zone 4, which is highly encouraging to know.

Hellebore Orientalis and hybrids

For many years I have grown the “Lenten Rose”, as noted in my remarks, above. It had survived in the untended front garden, competing with Maple roots, until I decided I wanted to see more of it and moved it to be visible from a the large indoor window. I rather rudely dug up the roots in early April, and planted them right away into the garden I can look into all year. They seem to have adjusted without a hitch! Not at all like the reputation they had from other garden writers (which doesn’t mean that is not usually true). I love their speckled blooms and transplanted them with a little trepidation, but they are getting settled now.

The Orientalis hybrids are easy to grow, prefer shade, like moisture, but take dryness. They bloom in late March or early spring in this Zone5b garden.

There is another type, H. foetidus, which Margery Fish, the famous English gardener, liked especially well.

General Info for Hellebores

All have five beautiful sepals that make up the flower, and turn into curious little seed “boxes” that look very much like those fortune-telling folded papers we used to make when I was a schoolgirl.

  • hardy to zone 4 or 5
  • well-drained soil with organic matter added
  • drought-tolerant once established, but appreciate moisture
  • excellent Cottage garden plants
Helleborus Orientalis

Helleborus Orientalis

You might like to read Old Fashioned Hellebore Advice.
A bit of hellebore history.

double Hellebore
Helleborus x hyb. ‘Double Queen’ – Double Hellebore

Hellebore book
Hellebore Links

Hellebore culture

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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author

Ilona Erwin

I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of Ilona's Reflecting Pool. Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.