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January's plant of the month is the hellebore

9 January 2015

January's plant of the month is the hellebore, always a welcome sight in early spring when their nodding bell-like flowers emerge from handsome evergreen foliage and fill the garden with shades of white, pink and rich plum purple.

The most popular varieties are without doubt Lenten roses, Helleborus orientalis, rock-solid reliable and returning with their wonderfully uplifting mid-spring display year after year. Look out for Harvington Hybrids in clear shades of red, lime and slatey purple, and the delicate 'Double Ellen' series.

A little daintier is the Christmas rose, H. niger, a white flowered hellebore which emerges in earliest January. Ironically the flowers are easily damaged by hard frosts, so protect them in really bad weather with a little horticultural fleece.

Finally there is a handsome and unusual group of wild hellebores, from stinking hellebore, H. foetidus (don't worry, it only smells a little when bruised) covered in curious green bells in spring, to Corsican hellebore (H. argutifolius) with large lime-green flowers and elegant glossy leaves.

All hellebores are woodland plants which enjoy a shady, damp spot. They're largely untroubled by pests and diseases: just trim off old leaves in late winter to expose the emerging buds so you can see the display at its heartwarming best.

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