The hellebore is one of the earliest blooms to be spotted in the garden, appearing from late winter to early spring. H. niger is a semi-evergreen perennial to 30cm, with pedately lobed, leathery, dark green leaves and, despite the name, the flowers are usually pure white or pink-flushed white, bowl-shaped flowers up to 8cm in width. Known commonly as the ‘Christmas Rose’ it usually flowers earlier than H. orientalis cultivars, often in January or February, but mine has sometimes not flowered until March. They self-seed freely and they dislike being disturbed.
The main Hellebores to be cultivated by gardeners are the Lenten Rose varieties (Helleborus orientalis) producing large saucer-shaped flowers in a wide range of colour forms from white to pink, plum and deep blackish-purple, often conspicuously spotted reddish-purple. They will bloom from late January onwards.
They love being in dappled sunlight and need no more than a few hours a day which is why the perfect location is underneath deciduous trees or scattered in a woodland garden. Remove the old blackened leaves and allow the new growth and buds to emerge. They do not require a lot of fertiliser, but do need protecting from slugs. Though having said that mine do seem to survive slug attacks reasonably well.