Hellebores are plants that will brighten any garden at this time of the year. They are marvellous plants for a shady position but most of them do not require a lot of shade. The best known species are Helleborus orientalis (Lenten Rose) and Helleborus niger (Christmas rose), these include thousands of different varieties.
The Lenten rose produces flowers that are open and cup-shaped with a nodding head. There is no better past-time than to lift their heads and stare into their remarkable centres. They come in mute colours of green, white, pale-pink, primrose yellow through to the most exquisite plum purple. All these colours may be enhanced by varying degress of dark red spots, the flower outline may be round or slightly star shaped. Growing about 12 inches tall, they make excellent ground cover under trees.
Helleborus niger, also known as the black hellebore because of its black roots, is the best known species of the Christmas rose family. It produces nodding flowers that open as early as January and continue until late April. Helleborus niger has been crossed with other species to produce some interesting hybrids such as ‘Potter’s Wheel’ which has white flowers up to five inches across with fine broad overlapping petals.
Breeding new varieties of hellebores has reached almost cult status in recent years. There are so many new varieties produced each year it is impossible to keep up with the new names. Breeders have produced double flowers with rich coloured centres.
Hellebores that flower well will produce seed that will germinate to produce new seedlings. Some of the seedlings can be potted up and grown on to produce plants that will flower after about three years. It can be exciting waiting for the new flower to appear because it may be a different colour than the parent plant because hellebores cross-pollinate easily so you may finish up with an interesting new variety. It is best to divide your clump of special varieties after flowering to increase your stock of hellebores. Hellebores do not come true from seed and this is the reason why choice varieties are so expensive. Most hellebores grow well in cool conditions and moisture under trees and shrubs in partial shade. They appreciate plenty of organic matter in the soil, topped up with a mulch in late summer just as the new flower buds are developing for the following year. All types prefer a sheltered position away from the effects of strong icy winds in winter which can damage the emerging blooms and leaves.
Old leaves can look tatty around flowering time, these leaves can be removed to expose the flowers to their maximum potential. Newly planted specimens may take a few years to settle down but once established will flower undisturbed for years.
Hellebores, like roses, can suffer from a type of black spot that is unsightly and in severe cases can kill the plant. A systemic fungicide, drenching the whole plant will help prevent this disease. The badly affect plant should have the worse affected leaves removed and burned to prevent spread of the disease.
Now is the time to visit your garden centre and make your selection of plants to provide a lifetime of colour during the longest, coldest months of the year. When you buy plants, in full flower, at this time of the year you see what you are getting.
Now is the best time of the year to plant bare-rooted asparagus. Before you plant, make sure the soil is enriched with compost or well rotted farmyard manure. Dig a hole for each asparagus crown, spacing them at least one foot apart. Make a trench about 12 inches deep with a central mounded ridge about 4 inches high. Place the asparagus crown on the ridge and spread the roots our evenly and cover them with about two inches of soil. After two years you will be able to harvest the spears, about two inches below soil level, when they are about six inches tall in late spring.
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Bare rooted trees, shrubs and roses should be planted as soon as possible before soil temperatures start to rise.