Flowers in December, you say? It can’t be possible. Yet overnight, bright white blooms have popped up in my garden. Helleborus niger, commonly known as Christmas Rose, is running the show. And at holiday time, my dreary landscape has never looked better.
PLANNING FOR YEAR-ROUND BLOOMS
Why not grow flowers all year round? As a landscape designer, I strive to create gardens that produce a succession of blooms throughout the seasons. In autumn, I plant Camellia sasanquas. The shrubs’ dazzling rose-like flowers in shades of pink, red and white provide color throughout the winter. They are followed by the larger, showier blooms of Camellia japonicas that continue the display until early spring.
Camellia sasanqua ‘Jean May’
My off-season months are also fragrant, thanks to Witch Hazels (Hamamelis). My favorite varieties are Diane, Arnold Promise and Jelena. In December, the shrubs’ branches are laden with swollen blossoms. Then in early winter, their ribbon-like petals begin to unfurl, painting my garden in deep shades of burgundy, orange and yellow.
Witch hazel ‘Arnold Promise’
In February, Helleborus orientalis, commonly known as Lenten Rose, picks up the baton. Blooming in profusion from late winter into early spring, its large, bowl-shaped flowers rise on slender stems from amidst the plant’s evergreen foliage. Hellebores form carpets beneath my bare-branched shrubs and herald the appearance of the season’s first daffodils.
Helleborus orientalis, commonly known as the Lenten Rose
But in December, the stage belongs to Christmas Rose. Blooming a month or two before its Lenten Rose cousins, this white-flowering perennial puts on a performance unlike any other. Seemingly overnight, it pops up from amidst the shady sections of my garden. And in a flash, my landscape is awash in color.
Christmas Rose, Helleborus niger
ABOUT CHRISTMAS ROSE
Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger)gets its name from its flowering period and also from the fact it resembles a wild rose. But Christmas Rose does not belong to the rose family. Rather, it is part of the Helleborus genus, which includes the popular Helleborus orientalis, or aforementioned Lenten Rose.
Due to its Latin specific name, niger (meaning black), some people also refer to it as the Black Hellebore. But the name refers not to the plant’s flower, but to the color of its roots.
Besides bloom period, a key difference between the two Hellebore species is flower shape. Whereas Helleborus orientalis flowers are upright and bowl-shaped, the flowers of Helleborus niger are large and flat. Blooming on short stems, Christmas Rose’s creamy white flowers appear to float atop a mound of densely packed, shiny evergreen foliage.
As an additional plus, a neat cluster of bright yellow stamens provide a sharp contrast to the radiant blooms. You could almost say they look like fried eggs from a distance.
Bright yellow stamens of Christmas Rose, Helleborus niger
GROWING CHRISTMAS ROSE
As its name implies, Christmas Rose typically starts blooming in December. However, in actual fact, its flowering period depends on variety and climate and can range anywhere between November and February. In some areas, flowers even bloom in the snow! Plants are hardy in zones 3-8.
Plant Christmas rose in a shady spot under deciduous trees. Over time, it will form a bushy, upright clump about 8-12 inches tall.
And like all hellebores, Helleborus niger make long-lasting cut flowers. Add a few blooms to other flowers in arrangements, or float them all by themselves in a bowls. You’ll have fresh flowers all winter long.
Float Hellebores in a bowl for an eye-catching arrangement.