Bring the Christmas rose into your garden to brighten the darkest months
The Christmas rose, or helleborus niger, is a traditional cottage garden perennial which produces pure white flowers, often turning pink, in the depths of winter. Despite its evocative name, it does not always flower at Christmas - many do not flower until later in the spring, like the Lenten rose. The best way to be sure of getting an early flowering variety is to visit a garden centre just before Christmas and choose a plant that is in flower.
The lovely Christmas rose has large, round, white, bowl-shaped flowers and deeply cut, dark green foliage. The flowers appear on short stems and, unusually for hellebores, are usually upturned rather than nodding. They last for two to three months and should be planted at the front of a partially shaded mixed border or beneath deciduous shrubs among spring-flowering bulbs.
Although the flowers resemble wild roses the Christmas rose does not, in fact, despite its name, belong to therosefamily but, surprisingly, the buttercup family.
Cutting back the old leaves down to the ground in January or February will show off the flowers beautifully and cutting back will also help to avoid diseases. Put lots of leaf mould, compost or manure around the base of the plant in autumn and provide a top dressing of general fertiliser each spring. Container grown Christmas roses can be fed with a balanced liquid fertiliser or with a high potassium fertiliser, such as tomato feed, to encourage blooms. The roots are, however, poisonous.
Just as beautiful as the Christmas rose is the Lenten rose. Their cup-shaped petals will bring early colour into your garden in shades of pink, mauve, purple, red or white - sometimes spotted - to shady herbaceous borders and areas between deciduous shrubs and under trees. All hellebores are frost-resistant.
Top Ten Jobs for December & January
- Plant winter-flowering viburnum in borders or containers close to doors and windows.
- Raise containers of winter displays off the ground using feet, bricks or pieces of tile. Top with gravel.
- December is a good time to move evergreens and large shrubs.
- Remove leaves from your lawn and mow with raised blades if December is mild and the grass is still growing. Don’t walk on it if it is frosty.
- Protect climbers if it is frosty. If any leaves are damaged leave them until early spring to protect undamaged shoots.
- Check your variegated shrubs and trees to make sure that the leaves haven’t become one colour. Prune out the solid colours.
- You can plant bare-rooted rose bushes in December but not where old ones have been in order to avoid disease.
- Prune wisteria, Virginia creeper and Boston ivy in January.
- When snowdrops, scillas and muscari begin to emerge carefully clear away leaves and debris from around them.
- By the end of January cut back perennials to make way for new shoots but leave your penstemons until April.