Give hellebores the time and they’ll flower their socks off until April

·2 min read

The hellebores are coming. The early ones started flowering before Christmas; now the rest are gathering pace and will keep it up until April. In grand old gardens and smaller, newer ones, banks of them will tumble open as they drift among cyclamens and ferns and accompany bluebells, wood anemones and other lovely spring things.

There are so many hellebores out there: doubles, semi-doubles, chaste-looking singles and ones with frills. Look a little closer and you’ll find speckles, spots, dots, dashes and smudges on the petals. There are glowing red clarets, duskiest pinks, sombre metallic purples, deep roses, slate blues, brilliant yellows and vivid and livid greens, not to mention foliage that can vary from dark black to silver.

The place to see them in all their glory is John Massey’s private garden, attached to Ashwood Nurseries in south Staffordshire. It produces up to 10,000 hellebores each season and reopens to the public next month (dates TBC). The truly serious can go behind the scenes with one of the nursery’s Hellebore Tours.

If a visit to the Midlands is out of question, it does mail order (inter-species now, garden hybrids from February to March) from about £5, up to £80 for rarities. The eagle-eyed can grab a bargain with its online-only bundles of seedling plug plants – a very economical way to start your drift.

Hellebores are not quick to bulk up; they take their time to get established. It will be a year, maybe two, before they’ve properly decided their feet are happy, then they start flowering their socks off. They are tolerant to drought and neglect, but thrive best in moist but well-drained soil. Poor drainage is the only thing they truly hate.

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Once settled, they will increase gloriously year on year, particularly if you feed them. They are hungry things, so mulch in late spring when the flowers are over and in autumn to fatten them up before they flower again. If you grow hellebores in containers, be aware that they drink a lot when in active growth in autumn and spring, but not when they go into non-active growth during summer.

Hellebores need some sort of shade – the more open the situation, the more moisture they need in the soil. The leaves are tough and rubbery and tend to look tired by now, so remove any of last year’s leaves to make way for the new growth and flowers.

Once the flowers are over, remove the seed heads unless you want hundreds of seedlings. These will be in muddy colours, and it will take you at least three years to find this out, so it is easier to prevent this and force the plant to concentrate on next year’s flowers rather than this year’s seed.

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