Handsome hellebores add colour to your borders

Chris Margrave, head gardener at Clumber Park
Chris Margrave, head gardener at Clumber Park

Hellebores are low maintenance plants, ideal for the front of a border or a woodland edge, where they will bring late winter or early spring colour.

The secret, as with all other garden plants, is to give them the conditions they prefer in the wild.

For most hellebores, this is a well-drained but moisture-retentive, leaf-litter- rich soil, and partial shade.

The two most commonly grown hellebores are the Christmas Rose and the Lenten Rose, the former flowering between January and March, the latter from February to April.

The Christmas Rose, Helleborus niger, produces white flowers and their short stalks mean that mud can sometimes splash up onto the flowers, spoiling their display.

This can be prevented by putting down a covering of bark chippings over the soil around the plant, or, if you’re growing it in a rock or gravel garden, a covering of gravel.

The Christmas Rose can also be grown in a container, so if you have an unheated greenhouse, they look good on staging, where their flowers will be more easily enjoyed at close quarters, especially those varieties with delicately marked petals.

For woodland spring colour, the Lenten Rose, Helleborus orientalis, and its many forms, will provide lots of interest.

Combined with other woodlanders, such as lungwort (pulmonaria), bleeding heart (dicentra), lily of the valley (convallaria) and perennial bulbs, such as daffodils and blue bells, colour can be had in April and into early May, depending on the earliness and warmth of the spring.

Lenten Rose flowers can vary from white to deep purple

For light shade or slightly sunnier spots, the evergreen Corsican hellebore, H. corsicus, produces showy, pale green flowers in the spring.

Shiny green foliage is attractively toothed along its edge.

The stinking hellebore, H. foetidus, is a native British plant, also evergreen , with pale green flowers.

It has a beautiful form with red stems called ‘Wester Fliske.

In recent years plant breeders have produced hybrids with attractive markings on the flower petals, multi-petalled, double flowered forms and even golden yellow flowered hellebores.

You will probably need to go to a specialist nursery for these.

Hybrids raised by Helen Ballard generally have larger, attractively patterned petals.

The Ashwood Garden Hybrids come in a wide range of flower colours and forms and have a reputation for their health, vigour and purity of their flower colour.

Hellebores are very easy to grow and are generally pest and disease resistant.

However, in mild winters slugs may attack their flowers.

Some varieties are also prone to a leaf spotting fungus, which produces brown blotches on their leaves.

They will benefit from a feed in early spring, using a complete fertiliser or, if you’re organic, blood, fish and bone.

Spread leaf mould around plants to retain moisture and they will reward you with their sumptuous flowers.

March is one of the most pivotal gardening months of the year.

The clocks go forward at the end of the month, allowing us to enjoy our gardens on lighter evenings.

There is still time to plant bare root hedging plants, such as quickthorn and beech, and bare-rooted fruit trees and flowering shrubs.

Divide hardy herbaceous perennial plants, such as delphiniums and hostas, whilst they are still dormant and before growth has started.

If you haven’t finished pruning roses and apple and pear trees, prune them before the end of the month, before buds start to burst into growth.

If you have a light, sandy soil, make the first sowings – of broad beans and a first early variety of pea such as Meteor and Feltham First - in the vegetable garden.

If annual weeds such as groundsel and chickweed have started to germinate, it is a good indicator that the soil is warm enough to sow seeds outdoors.

If you have a heavier clay soil, and want to make early sowings, soil can be covered with clear polythene for three weeks or so.

This will act as a mini greenhouse and prevent cold winds and rain from cooling the soil.

If you have a heated propagator, summer bedding plants, such as French marigolds, can be sown under glass.