23. Hellebores

I screwed up last year. I didn’t plant nearly enough things to get me through the winter. We’re still a couple of months away from spring proper, and my garden is still defiantly, obnoxiously inert. Even my compost heap seems to be inert.

This inertness has coincided with a January mood slump, which, while it may indeed have been manufactured by marketing types to sell me shit in the early part of the year, is no less of a struggle for that. The pathetic fallacy is bush league (so to speak). Cold nights, drizzly mornings, bare flower beds, and a dead compost heap.

So this week, I am going to tell you about one of the plants I wish I’d planted last year.

Helleborus niger

The Christmas rose. Allegedly.

People call hellebores – and specifically Helleborus niger – “Christmas roses”. If you squint, they do look a bit like wild roses. But they flower from around now until early spring, and botanically, they aren’t closes related to roses at all. Besides which, “hellebore” is such a lovely word! I’m calling bullshit.

Hellebores are diverse: there are dainty pink ones, spotty yellow ones, chic black ones and green ones.(I love the green ones.) There are single and double flowers, depending on how showy you like to make your borders. For me, the single flowers – i.e. one simple ring of petals – are best. They have a soft, papery quality, akin to Japanese anemones and poppies; it is as if they are made from crepe paper.

Hellebores are perennial: once you’ve planted them, you get to keep them, year after year. I get a little thrill when I discover a flower I like is perennial; it’s like going to the supermarket in search of your favourite crisps, and finding out they’re on half price. 

Helleborus orientalis

More like helluvaplant.

The flowers are clearly the main event here. But if you’re still not convinced, they have another trump card: great-looking foliage. Even before they bloom, hellebores are remarkably handsome plants. Which is not something you can say about scraggly, thorny, weedy actual roses.

The time to plant them is just around the corner. So I urge you: buy your seeds now, and get them in the ground before you get too busy. This time next year, you’ll thank yourself.


I’m going to move to posting these every two weeks, I think, because I have a few other writing projects I need to concentrate on (including this one). If you’re enjoying this blog, please do read through the archive, subscribe, share, and comment. It means a lot.


  1. I’m so happy you wrote about hellebores. They are so pretty to see in winter when everything’s gray and drab. Can’t wait to plant some!!! Thanks, Sam!

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