Why you need Hellebores in your garden

Hellebores are absolute star plants. Proper garden toughies, flowering all through winter, great foliage year-round, requiring very little fuss, tolerating drought and thriving in even the deepest shade. What more can you ask for?
Ashwood Hellebores, including the other-worldly metallic blacks and greys shades

At Ashwood Nurseries near Birmingham, John Massey and his team have been growing and breeding hellebores since the late 80’s. Their hybrids, known as the Ashwood Garden Hybrids, offer a huge choice in colour and form. More recently, the Ashwood Evolution Group is unique in offering shades of golden yellow, amber, peach, apricot and red. Every year eight to ten thousand hybrids are produced from their breeding work.

Hellebores in sunset tones; the Ashwood Evolution Group. Hellebores | The best plants for shade

There’s huge variation in hellebore foliage too, with some having really big leathery leaves, like Helleborus argutifolius, and others have more intricately dissected foliage. Helleborus viridis subsp. occidentalis is beautiful for it’s fine foliage. But none are more finely dissected than Helleborus multifidus subsp. hercegovinus, with some leaves being found to have as many as 185 divisions. Tap here to see them at Pan Global, a few years ago. A plant is slowly establishing in my garden at home.

Hybrids are made by hand pollinating the flowers. The bags help prevent rogue insects interfering.

They are often known as Christmas roses, which really refers to just one species of hellebore – Helleborus niger, with pure white flowers. These are often on sale in supermarkets looking sparkly and attractive in winter, but they are not generally good do-ers in the garden. Meanwhile most of the other species hellebores which all tend to have green flowers, and all of the colourful hybrids, are some of the toughest and most dependable garden plants of all. 

Species hellebores, often characterised by green flowers and snazzy foliage. This is Helleborus arbuzicus growing in John Massey’s garden in late February.

Photographs by Owen Hayman.

First published March 2023