Hellebores are long flowering and high performing – even in those tricky shady areas
During some post Christmas clearing of branches which had been blown down and around by the seasonal gales I found some treasures — the tips of new life starting to pierce through.
The days are beginning to lengthen and a new year of plant growth and performance beckons.
And among the first to say hello are some of the most beautiful flowers in the garden. Hellebores are now in full bud and many of their flowers are starting to open.
Hellebores are the link between winter and spring. There’s no other garden plant that will flower as well from now or even December and still be there by May. Hellebores are firm favourites with gardeners who value them for their long flowering ability, evergreen foliage and high performance in shady plots.
What’s more, they’re easy to look after, requiring little maintenance relative to the gorgeous displays they put on for months and months.
So what conditions do they like? Rich soil that retains its moisture is best so improve the soil with plenty of organic matter before planting. An autumnal mulch of compost or leaf mulch and a balanced feed in spring will ensure they are getting all the right nutrients.
While they’re a great option for a shady garden, you can still plant them in sunnier open positions, providing the soil doesn’t dry out and they will flower more freely in sunnier spots. Ideally they should be sheltered from cold drying winds as well.
They look gorgeous in combination with other late winter/early spring flowers such as primulas, anemones, pulmonarias and bergenias, along with spring bulbs like snowdrops, chionodoxa and crocus.
All of these are very valuable sources of nectar and pollen for our beloved butterflies and bees. Once planted, they’re best left alone to clump out — they don’t like to be disturbed. They will self-seed and different varieties will cross-breed so you can come across all sorts of lovely surprises if you let nature takes its course.
Just now, when they’re in danger of being swamped by fallen leaves a quick tidy around them will be beneficial.
To highlight their beauty, remove old foliage which will look a bit tattered at this stage and can also harbour unwanted fungal diseases.
There are many different varieties to choose from — with a wide selection of petal colours ranging from cream, green, apricot, pink, red, some wonderful rich dark purples.
Helleborus niger is commonly known as the Christmas rose. With its startling white flower and distinctive architectural foliage it’s become a gardener’s firm favourite. If it’s a green flowering variety you’d like, try one of the Single Green strains. Or for a splash of colour purple, grow Helleborus ‘Early Purple Group’ which enjoys red-tinged foliage and has plum-purple flowers with contrasting yellow stamens.
Now’s a good time to buy them when they are in flower — so you know exactly what you’re getting and add some sparkle to those dappled areas.
To enjoy in the house, snip off a few blooms and float in a bowl of water.
Cotoneaster x watereri ‘Cornubia’
I caught sight of a beautiful cotoneaster tree in a front garden this week. As gardeners we are more used to thinking of cotoneaster as bushes or ground cover such as the Cotoneaster horizontalis but it also makes a beautiful tree. This one was smothered with red berries, a feast for the local birds. It’s ideal in small gardens as it doesn’t grow too big — about six metres eventually — and it can make a very good screen as it is evergreen.
We planted a climbing hydrangea two to three years ago and although it looks healthy it has never flowered. Could you please offer some advice?
The climbing hydrangea is a fantastically useful plant as it will happily grow in the shade on a north or east facing wall and it doesn’t need trellis or any other supports to climb as it is self-supporting with its centipede like aerial roots.
However, like many climbers, it likes to settle into its new surroundings for a year or even a few before it really takes off. A lot of growth can be happening under ground as it spreads its roots and gets ready for take off.
You really do have to be patient and the blooms will come. Flower are a plant’s method of reproduction and that’s not the main thing on its mind at the moment! The only advice I would offer is if you are feeding the plant, get a balanced liquid feed as if you overdo the nitrogen, you tend to get more green leaves rather than flowers.
Submit your gardening questions to Diarmuid via his Instagram @diarmuidgavin using the hashtag #weekendgarden