Hellebores are easy to grow and are undemanding. They look good from January to May – even when their seed has set, their sepals are persistently handsome, eventually becoming green. Their foliage is bold and evergreen, and in some of the new hybrids the marbled leaves are just as celebrated as the flowers.
Hellebores are typically woodland edge plants. They thrive in rich, moisture-retentive soil but struggle in boggy and wet conditions. Most will tolerate full sun to almost full shade. They lend themselves to naturalistic schemes and informal plantings, and are perfect partners for early-flowering bulbs, pulmonarias and evergreen ferns. The colours of their sepals are multifarious, from the softest woodpigeon grey to pale apricot or damson, and from leaf green to the deepest black or pure white. They can be striped or spotted, picotee or plain, double or anemone-centred or simply single. Almost all of them have evolved methods of successful procreation.
There are fewer pollinators around when hellebores are in flower, but the blooms bear rich nectar and lots of pollen, making them an instant hit for hungry bumblebees. Most hellebores have downward-facing flowers. Not only does this protect the pollen from winter rains but it also offers shelter to the attendant insect while it feeds. One of the most alluring aspects of growing hellebores is the way in which you have to participate with them, gently turning up their faces to appreciate the uniqueness of each individual.
Hellebores also make great cut flowers – simply snip off flower heads and float in a shallow bowl of water.
How to grow hellebores
Grow hellebores in fertile, well-drained soil at the front of a border, beneath shrubs or in pots, in sun to partial shade. Cut back the large leathery leaves when flowers and new foliage emerge and mulch plants annually with well-rotted compost or manure. Avoid transplanting hellebores after they have established.
More on growing hellebores:
Where to plant hellebores
Grow hellebores at the front of a border in sun, or full or partial shade, depending on the variety you choose. They do best in fertile, well-drained soil.
When to plant hellebores
Hellebores can be planted at any time of year, as long as the soil isn’t frozen. Most hellebores are listed for sale when they’re in flower – from late winter to early spring, but you may find one in the bargain section of a garden centre in summer, which you can plant without any problems. Remember that, once planted, hellebores hate being moved, so avoid moving them once you’ve planted them.
How to plant hellebores
Plant hellebores like other perennials, with a sprinkling of mycorrhizal fungi and a spadeful of garden compost to help the plant settle in. Firm in gently and water well.
Watch Monty Don‘s video guide to planting and growing hellebores, including soil preparation and planting depth, and how to tackle leaf spot disease. Monty also looks at how to choose the best flowers for instant impact, and shows off the diversity of his hellebore collection:
How to care for hellebores
Cut back the large leathery leaves when flowers and new foliage emerge, and mulch plants annually with well-rotted compost or manure. Hellebores struggle if they’re moved once established, so avoid moving them if possible.
How to propagate hellebores
Because hellebores struggle when moved, it’s best not to divide them. Instead, collect ripe seed and sow into modules to grow new plants for free. Alternatively, let your hellebores self seed around your garden. No hellebore seedling will be true to its parents – by letting them self-seed randomly you’ll create a hodge-podge of different colours and flower shapes; you may even grow your own new hybrid!
Growing hellebores: problem-solving
The main enemy of hellebores is leaf spot, a fungal infection that leaves unsightly brown and black patches on the leaves. Remove affected foliage when you spot it.
Here, Monty Don demonstrates how to identify hellebore leaf spot and explains how to stop it spreading between plants:
Best hellebores to grow
Green hellebore, Helleborus viridis
Helleborus viridis is a dainty hellebore with green, chalice-like flowers surrounded by dark foliage. Grow in an open site in well-drained, alkaline soil.
Height x spread: 30cm x 30cm
Christmas rose, Helleborus niger
Though a well-loved garden plant, even skilled gardeners have trouble persuading it to settle. It does best in light soils.
H x S: 30cm x 45cm
Helleborus ‘Penny’s Pink’
This wonderful hybrid hellebore uses Helleborus x ericsmithii as one of the parents. Bold plants with striking marbled foliage.
H x S: 30cm x 30cm
Corsican hellebore, Helleborus argutifolius
Also known as the Corsican hellebore, this big, bold plant bears several flower stems, each bearing an imposing cluster of large apple-green flowers.
H x S: 50cm x 90cm
Stinking hellebore, Helleborus foetidus
Wester Flisk Group is a selection from our native ‘stinking hellebore’. It has reddish stems, glaucous foliage and pale globose flowers, sometimes with a red rim.
H x S: 50cm x 60cm
Helleborus x hybridus Ashwood Garden hybrids
Robust yet elegant, Ashwood garden hybrids come in a host of colours and forms, with pure flower colours retained over a long period.
H x S: 30cm x 30cm
Lenten rose, Helleborus x hybridus
Helleborus x hybridus bears clusters of saucer-shaped flowers coloured white, pink, green, mauve or smoky purple. Blooms may be plain or patterned. Plants will self-seed readily.
H x S: 45cm x 30cm
Helleborus x ericsmithii
Helleborus x ericsmithii is an unusual three-way hybrid hellebore. The evergreen foliage is a rich, deep green, and the flowers are a pale greenish-pink, darkening as they mature.
H x S: 45cm x 40cm