Beautiful garden blooms are thin on the ground at this time of year, so this week I thought we might consider one of the most unusual of them – the Christmas rose. Not a rose in the usual sense, it’s a member of the hellebore family, and its botanical name is Helleborus niger. Many keen gardeners will be familiar with its cousin, Helleborus orientalis, whose speckled, drooping flowers are amongst the earliest to bloom in January and February, and which is commonly known as the Lenten Rose. While the Lenten Rose typically has petals from cream and yellow to pink, purple and dusky plum, the Christmas rose’s flowers are usually pure white, beautifully set off by golden stamens and large, sturdy leaves of deepest green.
You’ll find them in garden centres in November and December, as they typically flower earlier than their coloured relatives. The leaves are semi-evergreen and the plants are perennial, so they should live for several years, but they can be hard to keep happy in the garden, so are often treated as bedding plants for the Christmas season. They look lovely in glazed pots near the front door, and if your entrance is fairly sheltered this is how I’d use them, to preserve the white petals from winter weather as much as possible. Red-berried evergreens make perfect companions, as do small pots of ivy. If creating a display like this to welcome your seasonal visitors, choose variegated ivy, as the white or cream streaks in the leaves will complement the pretty petals of the Christmas rose.
When flowering is over, after the Christmas season, you can plant them out in the garden if you want to try keeping them. Make sure you choose a sheltered spot with some shade, ideally with moist but well-drained soil – think woodland conditions and you won’t go far wrong. The leaves are attractive enough to earn their place in the garden even after flowering, and the lesser periwinkle, Vinca minor, would be a good companion.
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