Helleborus: One cool plant

In Europe, winter-blooming hellebores have been very much a traditional Christmas gift for some time now.

  • Dec. 22, 2012 6:00 p.m.
Helleborus: One cool plant

Poinsettias have a long and interesting history, becoming the number-one indoor potted plant grown in the world today. The many new varieties and colours produced each year keep them at the forefront as a Christmas season plant.

In the northern hemisphere, however, they are a very long crop for growers and require a great deal of labour and energy to produce. A huge amount of research and breeding work has been done to develop new varieties that not only finish in cooler temperatures, but are also more durable both indoors and out.

For years now, I’ve been on a quest to find alternate cool season plants that could be an alternate to poinsettias and still have a connection to many of our Christmas traditions.

The Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger) is certainly one of the top candidates. Over the past few years, greenhouse growers have been refining their production timing and forcing them into bloom at slightly higher temperatures in order to have those beautiful helleborus blossoms open for the month of December.

In zones 6 and above they work well as an outdoor garden or patio container plant, but in zones 5 and lower they need more protection.  The challenge is to find a room cool enough for them to last indoors.

In Europe, winter-blooming hellebores have been very much a traditional Christmas gift for some time now. The Heuger family has been at the forefront of new breeding to develop better early winter-blooming varieties that could be enjoyed over the holiday season.

The concept was to develop a series of plants that would naturally bloom in progression from November through March. If they were gently forced into bloom at slightly higher temperatures, they could provide a long-lasting flowering plant that could be enjoyed indoors then set back out into the garden to be enjoyed for many years to come.

Out of this research came the “Helleborus Gold Collection,” which displayed many new characteristics. This collection all bloomed on first year plants if they were started at the right time. Second, they provided lots of blooms that produced over a long period of time, and third, the blossoms were all forward facing for a far more striking appearance.

Some of the first varieties have now been on the market for a year or so, with many more about to be introduced this winter and next spring.  Helleborus niger Jacob (zone 4) has pure white flowers with a slight pink blush in cooler weather.  I love their deep burgundy stems and the blossoms have a faint perfume, which makes them ideal as cut flowers. It is one of the earliest-blooming hellebores and has the traditional glossy deep green foliage.

Helleborus niger Joseph Lemper (zone 4), one of the very earliest to bloom, has very large pure white blooms that appear slightly turned, facing upwards. As the blooms mature, they turn an attractive green. The foliage is very attractive, and a rich, dark green.

Helleborus niger Pink Frost provides a nice variation with its burgundy and white buds that burst open to a lovely soft pink which darkens with age. As the blooms open in sequence, beautiful shading, from white to pink and red, takes place.

Even if it never bloomed, its scented deep green leaves, unique vein display and  marbled sheen rivals any evergreen perennial.

Some of the new varieties being released this year are H. n. Cinnamon Snow (zone 5), with its creamy white flowers touched with rose and cinnamon. The buds also have a red accent and as the blooms open, they create quite a show.  The leaves are very scented and rich green, providing a nice contrast to the blooms.

Helleborus Merlin is a very striking and unusually beautiful pink that ages nicely to deep burgundy.  I love its dark green foliage with lighter veins and rich plum-coloured stems.

Helleborus Mahogany Snow, with its very large creamy flowers and unique light pink reverse, ages to a lovely mahogany pink.  I like its reddish stems, very compact habit and great garden performance.

Placed in attractive vases as cut flowers, or planted in wicker baskets or pots and kept reasonably cool (12-15 degrees Celsius) they will last for weeks indoors and can become a wonderful Christmas gift and new tradition. On protected patios, they can stay outside in full bloom and tolerate up to eight degrees C of frost without any harm.

You are going to see the first major release of these new hellebores across the country this holiday season, so do watch for them in your favourite garden centre. They make a wonderful Christmas gift that the recipient will enjoy each Christmas season. Consider giving a collection of several different varieties.

Brian Minter is a master gardener who operates Minter Gardens in Chilliwack.

Surrey North Delta Leader

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Dyllan Petrin is charged related to an ongoing investigation in Surrey involving a kidnapping and assault that occurred in July, 2019. (Photo: Surrey RCMP)
Man arrested in connection to kidnapping, murder investigations: Surrey RCMP

Police say Dyllan Petrin was arrested in Vancouver

Chief Constable Norm Lipinski, Surrey Police Service. (Submitted photo)
Surrey chief constable says ‘comprehensive’ public engagement to be done this year

Norm Lipinski says Surrey Police Service has ‘good momentum’

Surrey-raised forward Jujhar Khaira in action with Edmonton Oilers. (Photo: nhl.com)
Q&A: Surrey’s Jujhar Khaira credits parents for hard work on his path to NHL

Port Kells-raised player talks about his journey to pro hockey with Edmonton Oilers

The interventional oncology team at Surrey Memorial Hospital. The Surrey Hospitals Foundation has invested in innovative technologies to kickstart a new Interventional Oncology service at Surrey Memorial Hospital. (Submitted photo: Yvonne Chiang)
Surrey Memorial home to machines for ‘minimally invasive’ cancerous tumours treatments

Technology can freeze, burn tumours without need for surgery

A woman writes a message on a memorial mural wall by street artist James “Smokey Devil” Hardy during a memorial to remember victims of illicit drug overdose deaths on International Overdose Awareness Day, in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, on Monday, August 31, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. paramedics respond to record-breaking number of overdose calls in 2020

On the front lines, COVID-19 has not only led to more calls, but increased the complexity

Southern resident killer whales in B.C. waters. Research shows the population’s females are more negatively influenced by vessel traffic than males. (Photo supplied by Ocean Wise Conservation Association)
Female orcas less likely to feed in presence of vessel traffic: study

Research the southern resident population raises concerns over reproduction capacity

(Black Press Media files)
Transport Canada not budging on enclosed deck rules, despite calls from BC Ferries union

There have been at least 23 cases of the U.K. variant detected in Canada, four of which are in B.C.

The Elk Valley Hospital is adapting to meet the needs of patients in the Elk Valley.
One in five tests in Fernie area coming back positive: doctor

Dr Ron Clark of Elk Valley Hospital said one in five tests was returning positive for COVID-19

Ralliers gather in front of the Cityviews Village apartment building in Maple Ridge to protest attempts to evict low-income tenants by the building owner. (Ronan O’Doherty - The News)
Tenants protest pressure tactics by new landlord at Maple Ridge apartment building

Protest held in front of Cityviews Village on 223 St. Tuesday to rally against low-income evictions

Throughout December, RCMP conducted CounterAttack road checks as police worked to keep roads free of impaired drivers. (BLACK PRESS file photo)
From the “You can’t make this stuff up” file – stories from the BC CounterAttack campaign

Amusing, yes, but a reminder impaired driving affects ability to drive and to make good decisions

Snow is forecasted to appear in parts of Metro Vancouver this weekend. (Black Press Media files)
Snow forecasted for parts of Lower Mainland this weekend

Environment Canada is predicting flurries and snow from Saturday to Monday evening

(Thesendboys/Instagram)
Video of man doing backflip off Vancouver bridge draws police condemnation

Group says in Instagram story that they ‘don’t do it for the clout’

A Langley woman said she was shaken by the angry encounter. (Google Maps)
Woman shaken after belligerent encounter with unmasked man in Langley store

A man angry about vaccines berated a fellow shopper, a witness said

Most Read