Blog Star of the Season: Hellebores

Star of the Season: Hellebores

If there’s one flower that’s both shamelessly promiscuous and awkwardly shy, it’s the winter rose, or hellebore. 

She loves cold temperatures, the crisp frost and chilling air that comes with winter. We find it incredible that her delicate beauty can withstand such bone-crunching cold. But she also loves the winter sun beneath deciduous trees that then provide her with essential summer shade when these trees come back into leaf.


Picked and ready for float bowls and silver platters. Photo - Luisa Brimble

The winter rose (Helleborus) is actually not a rose at all, but a low groundcover with shy, nodding flowers that originated from China.


Speckled faces. Photo - Inomoto/


I’ve been collecting hellebores for years – I fell in love with their muted plum and green blooms, pretty speckled markings and papery texture. Their mad promiscuity results in a wonderful array of differently toned and marked flowers. Hellebore orientalis can cross pollinate not just with themselves, but with other species as well, resulting in offspring can be anything from the prettiest of freckled progeny to muddy hybrids. Bin the rejects and nurture seedlings popping up near existing favourites in the hope these new plants will retain their parent’s qualities.


They are perfect to pick, good to float in bowls and will last forever. Fill a bucket with cold water and head outside! You’ll notice that some flowers have stamens with their pollen still intact. They will need to be picked on short stems so they don’t flop in the vase; they look like this…


Photo - bodorka/

Other flowers have dropped their pollen and you’ll see the beginnings of a seed pod developing, like this. 


Seed heads developing. Photo - imamchits/


Empty flowers, or those beginning their seed pods can be left long stemmed. Put all the flowers straight into a bucket of cold water and head back to the kitchen so they don’t have a chance to wilt.


Floatbowls. Photo - Luisa Brimble


Strip off any foliage that would sit below the water level so they don’t rot. Then dip all lower 4cm of all stems into boiling water for 20-60 seconds. Plunge them straight back into the cold water.


A simple vase. Photo - Diana Taliun/


Short stemmed hellebores - those filled with pollen - can be simply overturned, freckles facing the sky, and upended in a float bowl, they last 4-5 days this way. We love Nana Alice’s old silver platters which hold less water. This extends the flower display 7-10 days as the flowers don’t come in contact with too much water.


Pollen filled flowers. Photo - Luisa Brimble

To get hellebores to last in floral hair arrangements (gorgeous for winter weddings!), use ones that have a visible seed pod. The more developed the seed pod, the sturdier the hellebore will be. This is because the sepals become stiff and waxy as the seed pod develops, which helps them resist wilting. A really mature hellebore can actually hold up beautifully out of water for a day or more. They’re great for boutonnieres and hair flowers.


What a mess! Photo - Luisa Brimble

Hellebores are easy to grow and not demanding. Plant them in soil enriched with compost or manure and give them light-dappled shade. They’re perfect beneath deciduous trees such as magnolias, crepe myrtles and maples, where winter sunshine will encourage more flowers and the summer canopy will protect them from too much heat. Or just cram them into pots and bring them out when in flower.


Ivory Prince. Photo - Diana Taliun/


Styling: Linda Ross
Plants thanks to Hellebores Down Under, Bilpin



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Daphne Challoner commented on 22 Jul 15

Thank you, gorgeous photos, and the rose photos, would love tham all.

Glenna Coxhill commented on 22 Jun 15

Having trouble with hellebores in full winter shade. Some new leaves coming on with what looks like a black mould. Should I move them?

Anne at Hazelbrook commented on 21 Jun 15

Linda, I loved all the wonderful "winter roses" Last week I too visited the lady in Bilpin. It is very easy to spend $50 without blinking. I am just starting my collection as my gardener decided last year that those "ratty" looking "weeds" should be pulled out. ARH!

Rory Mack commented on 11 Jun 15

Very good article. Just bought a new supply from the hellebore lady in Bilpin. They love it here in Mt Victoria. Some of our older ones are now flowering.
On another subject. We have recently noticed the news readers on 2GB have stopped giving the weather temperatures for Katoomba.
Many gardeners live in the Blue Mountains and many listen to Graham on the weekends. Katoomba, for some unknown reason, is now not recognised during the weather broadcasts on 2GB. Please ask Graham if he can get this reversed. Thank You.

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