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Making the most of Hellebores in Winter

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Aimee Irving-Bell

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A close up of a hellebore

Hellebores, or what many people call the ‘Christmas Rose’ are a staple of the winter garden, providing all year round interest it is just after Christmas that the beautiful and quite exotic looking flowers emerge. Here at Lincoln we utilise them in all our shady spots, you will find them under the tree in Grove and throughout the Rector's and Fellows’ gardens.

Gardeners will realise the connection with roses is not merely down to the flowers. Both roses and hellebores harbour a disease called black spot, a fungal disease which can cause leaf spotting, but also weaken the plant. As you can see, they may have beautiful flowers in winter but the foliage looks a little underwhelming.

To rectify this and give you a display to be proud of is rather counter-intuitive. We all know plants use photosynthesis to supply them with nutrients and energy, and their leaves are like the solar panels to absorb this sunlight. So to go hack off every one of your plants leaves at the point when most plants require more foliage too feed their flowers really feels wrong. However the hellebores have been working pretty hard all year, storing up energy in their roots.

By removing all the leaves you a) remove the black spot disease so it helps keep your hellebores healthy b) encourages brand new healthy leaves to sprout and c) clears the way for the more spectacular flowers.

This is no hard and fast rule, and any gardener will tell you to treat hellebores as individuals. Some will have no leaves at all to look their best. Others may retain 1-3 upright spot free leaves for the growing season to give a bit of structure, or if you have an especially healthy plant which has evaded the black spot fungus then you can allow it to bush out a bit more, especially in an area you just want filling. Hellebores love shade so will thrive in these spots all year where not much else will.

If you grow these at home, can pick the flowers to float in water for a pretty indoor or outdoor display.

Hellebores

Photos by Simon Baker