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April 2, 2019

Gardening: Hellebores help cross the bridge to spring

Photo/Maryanne Sparks
A perennial, the Hellebore grows to about 15 inches tall and has shiny dark evergreen leaves of a leathery texture.
By Sandra Wright
Master Gardener

My first encounter with the Christmas Rose took place when I went with my mom to the Abbey Gardens in Bury St. Edmonds, Suffolk, England. In the middle of an English winter, I first saw a delicate white flower under an old, ivy-covered tree.

My mother, who loved to garden, told me it was the Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger) which is the sister species of the Lenten Rose – Helleborus orientalis. Blooming now in Virginia, Hellebores thrive in shady soil with minimal care.

Over the years, I have learned that the Hellebores are primarily European natives growing in meadows in Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, Turkey, Grease, Italy and China. English explorer Will McLewin, along with other Hellebores lovers, risked his life on regular treks through these regions gathering the plants’ seeds.
There is a legend associated with the Christmas Rose. It is the tale of a little shepherd girl named Madelon. As she tended her flock of sheep one wintery Christmas night, the wise men and shepherds passed by the snow-covered meadow bearing gifts for the Christ child. Madelon, who was very poor, started to cry for she had no gift. An angel watching over the manger took pity on her and caused the snow at Madelon’s feet to vanish, revealing the most beautiful white flower with pink tipped petals that was from her tears. This was the gift that she gave the Christ child.
Hellebores niger is also known as the Snow Rose or Winter Rose. It is a true Christmas flower.

It is one of the easiest and most rewarding of garden plants to grow. Blooming in the darkest months when everything else is frozen makes it an asset to any garden.

This perennial grows to about 15 inches tall and has shiny dark evergreen leaves of a leathery texture. Each flower stalk bears a single 2- to 4-inch white bloom, often tinged with pink at the tip of the bloom. These plants are filled with alkaloid toxins and have been used both for poison and purgative. This makes them deer resistant.

It is best to buy from nurseries between the months of January and early April.
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