Old Fashioned Hellebore Advice

Ilona Erwin

I came across an old (1915) out-of-copyright book online which had some good advice on growing hellebores. These perennial plants have started to become much more popular recently. I put in a Lenten hellebore years ago, and always have enjoyed the dusky purple flowers early in the season. After I purchased some Christmas hellebores I decided to place them where I can look out the window to see them. Even though they won’t bloom at Christmas time in my climate- the weather will still be inclement enough that if I hope to enjoy them I need to be able to do it from the comfort of my heated home!

From the book, ‘Gardening for Amateurs ‘ by H H.THOMAS, in the public domain. Photos, my own.

 Helleborus (Christmas and Lenten Rose)

The Hellebores are divided into two groups, the Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger and varieties), which blossoms from November to March, and the Lenten Rose (varieties of H. orientalis and H. viridis), flowering from February to May.

Blooming as they do in mid-winter, when the weather conditions are often unfavourable, it behoves the grower to choose a sheltered position for the plants. They prefer a rather moist, shady position, and thrive in any good garden soil enriched with decayed manure and leaf-mould.

Perhaps the best of all positions is among hardy ferns, for these two kinds of hardy plants have several cultural requirements in common. Both are shade-loving, delighting in liberal mulchings of leaf-mould, and during summer greatly benefit from free watering, and an occasional application of weak liquid cow- manure. The old fronds left on the ferns in winter provide protection for the flowers of the Hellebores, this being particularly desirable for the Christmas Rose.

To give further protection it is worthwhile covering the best clumps showing flower buds with hand-lights or a temporary frame.

A shrubbery border, where the trees and shrubs are not planted thickly, may be made very interesting from November to May with a planting of Hellebores. The falling tree leaves in autumn should be left on the ground. They will improve the soil and protect the plants.

When to Plant Christmas Roses.

Hellebores are increased by division of the roots, July being the best time to do the work ; or by seeds sown in a cold frame as soon as they are ripe.

From seed

Raising the plants from seeds is rather slow, the young plants taking from three to four years to flower. It is, however, most interesting, especially with the Lenten Roses, and if a few seeds are sown each year there will be young plants flowering for the first time every season.


So long as they are thriving and flowering freely it is not desirable to transplant Hellebores unless for purposes of propagation, as they dislike being disturbed, and take two years at least to recover from the cheek of lifting. An annual top-dressing of equal parts of leaf-mould and old manure is very beneficial in May or June.

Christmas Roses

Hellbore niger

Years later, Jacob Hellebore

The old white Christmas Rose (H. niger) is at its best from December to March.

Altifolius (syn. maximus) is taller and more vigorous, with large flowers. usually tinged with pink ; they are the first to expand, generally opening in November.

Angustifolius, pure white, is the variety usually chosen for cultivation in the cold frame or greenhouse; it produces fine flowers on long stalks ; this variety is sometimes grown as luvernis, the St. Brigid Christmas Rose; major, a large-flowered variety, opens during December and January ; and ‘Madame Fourcade’ is a fine white-flowered French variety. The height of the plants is about 1 foot, the leaves generally being rather taller than the flowers.

Lenten Roses

The Lenten Roses are much more numerous than the Christmas Roses, and rather taller in growth.

They comprise many beautiful shades of rose, purple, and white, some of the varieties being handsomely spotted. They thrive excellently on a shady border in the suburban garden.

A selection of good sorts comprises ‘Bismarck’, deep plum purple ; ‘Brutus’, coppery-rose ; ‘Councillor Benary’, snow white, purple spots ; ‘Chancellor’, rose ; ‘Frau Irene Heinemann’, purple spotted flowers ; ‘Gertrude Jekyll’, pure white ; ‘Gretchen Heinemann’, light purple; ‘Harlequin’, rose, spotted.

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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.