Heavenly Hellebores

 In Hardy perennials, Plant Focus, Winter colour
heavenly hellebores

Massed blooms of Helleborus x hybridus

Heavenly hellebores filled my old garden.

Unfortunately I had to leave most of them behind when I moved.

I was able to rescue a few of the most interesting ones and get them established in large pots. That was in the spring of 2018. They still sit in those pots awaiting better soil conditions for planting here in my new garden in south Somerset. Will this rain ever stop?

My old Collection

My heavenly hellebore collection was full of delightful and varied hellebores. They bloomed from December to April. No amount of snow, frost or rain stopped them from blooming and every one was a delight!

The collection was exceptional, both in numbers and in varieties, since that was where I kept the stock plants for my old business Cleeve Nursery. From these I was able to collect seed and produce heavenly hellebores to sell to gardeners in the Bristol area.

Of course, I had the ordinary white ones, pink ones and the green flowered ones. But I had many that are yellow, black and purple. In fact every imaginable colour between these too!

floating anemone centred hellebores

Some of the anemone centred hellebores

But the ones that excite me most are those that have extra rows of petals called ‘anemone forms’. The strain that I also developed was often heavily spotted. Add to that fully double flowered or two tone bicolour types [‘picotee’] and you will appreciate that it was a comprehensive collection.

I had well over 150 plants growing in that cool and largely shaded garden.

To be perfectly honest I had never counted them and if I had attempted to I know that I would have got distracted and lost count.  My curiosity always got the better of me and I couldn’t resist lifting their hanging heads to see the detail hidden inside each bell shaped bloom!



Growing conditions

a garden full of hellebores

Part of the author’s old hellebore collection

Now not all hellebores like shade.

The green flowered evergreen types preferring full sun, good drainage and perhaps a poor soil. Most of these originate in the Mediterranean area so this shouldn’t be too surprising.

The type of hellebores that I had were mostly the Lenten Roses which were formerly known as Helleborus orientalis. They are now more correctly called Helleborus x hybridus.

These Lenten Roses love well drained soil that is rich in organic matter. It shouldn’t dry out too much.

Being a member of the buttercup family [along with Clematis, Pulsatilla, peony and anemone] hellebores enjoy limey soil. That is soil with a pH higher than 7.0.

We need the bees

Since heavenly hellebores bloom so early they can be affected by low temperatures and the miserable wet weather that we have had.

It is simply too cold and wet for most pollinating insects to venture out and that means that the blooms are not getting pollinated. There won’t be too many baby hellebores later if the flowers don’t get pollinated!

Growing from seed is still the main way that these beautiful spring flowers are propagated. But every cloud has a silver lining since unpollinated flowers last longer. The result can be a lengthen garden show!


How long do they live

I’ve heard it said that Lenten Roses – and particularly the most expensive ones – are short lived. This is nonsense as most will certainly outlive us!

What I suspect is the cause for failure is the lack of providing right growing conditions. A little time considering the best place to plant, and then some more time spent improving the soil in that place, will make all the difference to success and failure!


What to plant with them

hellebore with arum

Heavily spotted hellebore with Arum leaves

Hellebores look good planted with snowdrops, early crocus, Cyclamen coum, Pulmonaria and marble-leaf Arum italicum Pictum.

They will grow well between established shrubs and are especially valuable for bringing interest to borders around deciduous shrubs.


The Ciderhouse Strain and others

At my old business Cleeve Nursery we specialised in growing and breeding hellebores.

We named our own strain after our cottage called Ciderhouse Farm. Hence the strain is called Ciderhouse Strain.

These are prolific bloomers, strong growers and often have flowers that are heavily spotted inside.

pink picotee hellebore flowers

A strong pink and white picotee form

We added a range of shades of bicolour picotee types. The the edge of the petals on each bell-shaped flower is darker than the middle. The darker colour ‘bleeds’ into the centre.

Many of these beauties have rich dark eyes too…I sometimes think that all they lack are the eyelashes!


The chosen few

I have about 50 plants to put into my new garden here at Tintinhull. They are mostly double flowered, picotee or anemone centred. The soil here is much heavier and wetter than at Cleeve so I’m taking my time to improve it before planting out so many valuable plants.

With so many colours and flower variations it is hard to choose a favourite but I would be interested to hear which you like best.

I’d also be interested to hear what plants you think that hellebores look good with?

I wrote an earlier blog on hellebore trends here.

Hellebores bring colour to the garden in winter. Winter flowering heathers do too. Read about them here. 

A hand holds the flowers of hellebores up

A very productive anemone centred form

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