Alan Titchmarsh shares ‘best’ hellebores to grow for attractive blooms

Alan Titchmarsh shows off flower garden

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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 in gardens. They lend themselves to naturalistic schemes and informal plantings, and are perfect partners for early-flowering spring bulbs, pulmonarias and evergreen ferns. For gardeners who want to know which are the best to grow, Alan has shared his favourite varieties with Gardeners’ World.

He said: “Hellebores are one of the first plants to flower in the year, undaunted by frost and snow.

“When not in flower, their evergreen foliage provides an attractive backdrop for plants that enjoy similar conditions, including pulmonarias, primulas and snowdrops.

“An important point to keep in mind about hellebores is that they resent root disturbance, so shouldn’t be divided. Fortunately, they will readily self-seed, the hybrids producing a range of different coloured blooms. Here are some of the best hellebores to grow.”

The gardening pro noted that it is even possible to breed your own hellebores, which he claimed is “easier than you might think” and gardeners will be rewarded with their own unique varieties.

1. Helleborus x hybridus

Helleborus x hybridus bears nodding or outward-facing, saucer-shaped, flowers from February onwards. It’s perfect for growing in large clumps, particularly beneath trees in shady borders.

The expert said: “There are both single and double varieties of helleborus x hybridus to grow, though the singles are especially elegant with their flowers of white, yellow, pink and purple, with sulphur-yellow anthers providing great contrast. 

Alan noted the varieties to grow include “garden yellow” and the “ashwood garden hybrids”.

For best results, grow Helleborus x hybridus in moist but well-drained soil in partial shade. 

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2. Helleborus foetidus

Helleborus foetidus is commonly known as the stinking hellebore – the crushed leaves smell unpleasant.

It is a compact, evergreen perennial with more finely divided, elegant foliage than most hellebores.

In the first year, it’ll make a mound of finely cut foliage, but as the rosette matures, a mass of pale-green bells open above the leaves and remain “lasting for weeks”, claimed Alan.

The flowers last for several months, and associate well with other spring flowers that enjoy dappled shade such as coloured primroses, violets, dwarf narcissi, grape hyacinth and spring flowering hardy cyclamen.

3. Helleborus argutifolius

Helleborus argutifolius has flowers that are brightly green, set against spiny, evergreen foliage. 

The flowers appear in winter, and remain on the plants for a long time. It’s perfect for growing in a shady border close to the house, where you can appreciate its late-winter beauty.

Alan noted that these hellebores are the “giant of the race” with whiskery, veiny leaves that are topped with generous trusses of pale-green flowers.

The Royal Horticultural Society has given it its Award of Garden Merit (AGM).

4. Helleborus niger

While commonly known as the Christmas rose, the gardening pro noted that gardeners will be lucky if they can get it to flower for the festive period.

It’s perfect for growing at the front of a partially shaded border and makes an excellent cut flower – simply float the blooms in a bowl of water to display them.

Alan instructs that gardeners should cover them with a pane of glass if they want “pristine flowers unsplashed by mud”, or mulch them with chipped bark. He said: “It keeps them clean and makes the perfect nursery for seedlings.”

For best results grow Helleborus niger in moist but well-drained soil in partial shade. Mulch annually with well-rotted compost or manure, and cut back the old leaves as flowers and new foliage appear.

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