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Hellebores, the Winter Rose

The winter rose is in a class all of its own with its speckled flowers peeking up through dark foliage, brightening the coldest of days. Let’s take a closer look.


Fifteen species belong to this genus of low-growing, palmate-leafed perennials with nodding flowers. Pastel pink, cream, greenish white, plum and purple are the colours on offer. Spreading clumps usually reach 30cm tall. They thrive in dappled light, light shade or morning sun and like fertile, well-drained soil. Don’t be fooled by their delicate appearance – they’re remarkably tough!

Fact file

Name: Helleborus sp. commonly known as winter rose or Hellebore.

Belongs: to the buttercup family Ranunculaceae

Origins: Europe to western China

Flowering: Winter to early spring


Winter: Their graceful, classic beauty is breathtaking, with lightly marbled or speckled flowers. Nothing thrills us more than bringing armfuls of these shy winter angels inside to display in vases, float bowls and silver platters.

Spring: Flowering extends into spring, and even later in colder areas. Feed with Blood & Bone and mulch well. Some varieties have flowering stems to about 50cm, others stick their heads up to just 20cm.

Summer: Keep moist, don't let them dry out and mulch thickly. Prune away any spent flowers and leaves. After summer, I prune off old leaves, allowing sunlight to reach the plant to encourage flowering. Then I spread compost around them; contrary to popular belief, they do not like wet feet.

Autumn: For propagation only, divide now. These plants are slow-growing so rarely become overcrowded.


How can anyone resist these speckled beauties? Photo - Inomoto/

We love them

In pots. As under-plantings beneath established feature trees and massed as ground covers in shady woodland style gardens. Use them to fill borders in front of white or pink azaleas and to add another layer in front of a hedge of camellias. Mix with pieris for an elegant winter floral display. Pot them up for colour and interest on your outdoor table setting. Make a little posy of cut flowers for your bathroom (dip the ends of the stems in boiling water first).



Protect them from hot winds and hot afternoon sunshine, don’t disturb them unnecessarily as they’ll sulk and be slow to re-establish!


What else

They’re very cold tolerant, some will flower through snow, so gardeners in frosty gardens can plant them with reckless abandon. That being said, they’re fine with high summer temperatures so long as they’re kept moist. Prior to planting them under trees, treat the soil with a wetting agent and apply our old favourite: composted cow manure.

Where to buy 

Pop into the shade house of any of the nurseries in our Nursery Network to have your breath taken away over winter and early spring. They’re all lovely, but make sure you look at the Winter Royalty Collection, we bet you take home more than one type!


Hellebores grow well in pots but need a splash of morning sun to flower. Photo - Diana Taliun/


Another one

Helleborus hybrid ‘Winter Sunshine’

Originating from the Netherlands and similar in flower colour to the much-loved Hellebore ‘Ivory Prince’, this hybrid holds its elegant flowers up above the foliage so it’s not a nodding type, the benefit being you don’t have to crouch down low to fully appreciate the beautiful blooms.


Text: Linda Ross

About this article

Author: Linda Ross