The Ellebori are perennials, with rhizomatous root, widespread in nature in the Italian and European flora; the species are not many, on the other hand there are some cultivars, with particularly large or showy colored flowers. The common name Rose di Natale derives from the fact that most of the species, in case of a favorable climate, bloom in December-January, producing inflorescences that are very reminiscent of the flowers of botanical roses, such as large white dog roses.
From the fleshy rhizome some leaves are produced - often only two - with a long erect petiole, palmate, of a beautiful bright dark green color. In winter, some stems stand between the leaves bearing inflorescences, consisting of a tuft of small pistillate flowers, subtended by five large sepals, white, cream, purple. The inflorescences can be single, or bloom in groups on short-branched stems, which give rise to a fairly large semi-shrubby structure.
The Ellebori have greater development during the cooler period of the year, so it is not uncommon for plants to lose the aerial part in July and August, and develop new leaves from the end of summer, until spring. These plants are quite widespread in the Italian flora, in the pre-Alpine and Apennine areas; unfortunately they are a little less common in gardens, where they remain quite difficult to grow. Their characteristic of developing particularly during the cold months makes them particularly interesting for those gardens where one of the few color notes would result in an otherwise gray garden.
How to grow hellebores
These plants are quite difficult to cultivate in Italy, in particular because they behave in the opposite way to most of the plants commonly grown in the garden; in reality it is sufficient to follow a few simple precautions, and our hellebore will develop better from year to year.
Christmas roses are plants native to mountainous and hilly areas, and do not love the heat excessively; for this reason it is good to grow them in a semi-shaded area, where, especially in the warm months, they enjoy the refreshment from direct sunlight. If placed in a very sunny place in summer, or even in spring, they will force us to water very regularly and abundantly, and in any case the sun and the heat could ruin the rhizomes, making them unable to produce new vegetation.
So we choose a semi-shaded, or shaded area; in general places are preferred near a low wall - for example - or under the foliage of tall shrubs.
It is fundamental to choose a good soil with alkaline pH, deep and rich in organic matter; if possible, every year, in autumn, we spread granular fertilizer or manure around the plants to improve the mineral salts content of the soil.
Although they are plants that love a cool and humid climate, persistent conditions of soil saturated with water, they can lead to the rotting of the rhizomes, for this reason it is good to grow hellebores in a fairly well-drained soil, free of water stagnation.
As we said, they are plants with a prevalent development in the cool and cold months of the year; therefore we will have to expect a rich and luxuriant vegetation starting from September-October, until April May; in the remaining months, hellebore plants can also enter a period of vegetative rest, completely losing the aerial part. In this case, as soon as the leaves dry, we can stop watering, except in case of very long drought; we will resume them in late August, or early September, when the weather returns to being cool.
The root system of this plant is quite delicate, therefore it is advisable to avoid moving the hellebores, instead we recommend leaving the plants undisturbed in a corner of the garden, where they can also create large spots.