Poinsettias have a long and interesting history, becoming the No. 1 indoor potted plant grown in the world today. The many new varieties and colors produced each year keep them at the forefront is a Christmas season plant. In the northern hemisphere, however, they are a very long crop for growers and require great deal of labor and energy to produce. A huge amount of research and breeding work has been done to develop new varieties hat can not only finish in cooler temperaores, but also be more durable to survive both indoors and out. For years now, I've been on a quest to find alternate cool season plants that could be an alternate to poinsettias and still have a connection to many of our Christmas traditions. The Christmas Rose, helleborus niger, is certainly one of the top candidates. Over the past few years, greenhouse growhave been refining their production and forcing them into bloom at slightly higher temperatures in order to have those beautiful helleborus blossoms open for the month of December. In zones 6 and above, this works well as an outdoor garden or patio container plant, but in zones 5 and lower they need more protection. The challenge is to find a room cool enough for them to last indoors. In Europe, winter blooming hellebores have been very much a traditional Christmas lift for some time now. The Heuger family has been at the forefront of new breeding to develop better early winter blooming varieties that could be enjoyed over the holiday season. The concept was to develop a series of plants that would naturally bloom in progression from November through March. If they were gently forced into bloom at slightly higher temperatures, they could provide a long lasting flowering plant that could enjoyed indoors then set back out into the arden to be enjoyed for many years to come. Out of this research came the Helleborus Gold Collection, which displayed many new characteristics. This collection all bloomed in first year plants if they were started at the right time. Second, they provided lots of blooms that produced over a long period of time, and third, the blossoms were all forward facing for a far more striking appearance. Some of the first varieties have now been on the market for a year or so, with many more about to be introduced this winter and next spring.
o Hellebores niger `Jacob' (Zone 4) has pure white flowers with a slight pink blush in cooler weather. I love their deep burgundy stems and the blossoms have a faint perfume, which make them ideal as cut flowers. It is one of the earliest blooming hellebores and has the traditional glossy deep green foliage
o Hellebores niger `Joseph Lemper' (Zone 4), one of the very earliest to bloom, has very large pure white blooms that appear slight turned, facing upwards. As the blooms mature, they turn an attractive green. The foliage is very attractive, and a rich, dark green.
o Hellebores niger `Pink Frost' provides nice variation with its burgundy and white buds that burst open to a lovely soft pink which darkens with age. As the blooms are in sequence, beautiful shading, from white to pink and red, takes place. Even if it never its scented deep green leaves, unique vein display and marbled sheen rivals any evergreen perennial.
o Some of the new varieties being release this year are H. n. `Cinnamon Snow' Zone 5 with its creamy white flowers touched w rose and cinnamon. The buds also have red accent and as the blooms open, they create quite a show. The leaves are very scented and rich green, providing a nice contrast to the blooms.
o Hellebores n. `Winter's Bliss' (Zone 4) has rosy buds opening to a creamy white with a delightful dark pink reverse. It's quit(: compact, but the leaves are fairly large and very shiny dark green.
o Hellebores n. `Silver Moon' (Zone 4) produces creamy white flowers with a tinge of pink that ultimately changes to a beautiful dusty rose. Its habit is quite upright with lovely silver leaves held erect by rosy stems.
o Hellebores n. `Winter's Song' has dark pink buds that open into classic ivory bloom with a pink reverse. It's quite a sprawled, with fairly large lance shaped green leaves tinged with silver. Placed in attractive vases as cut flowers, or planted in wicker baskets or pots and kept reasonably cool (12 - 15°C) they will last for weeks indoors and can become a wonderful Christmas gift and new tradition. On very protected patios, they can stay outside in full bloom and tolerate up to 8°C of frost without any harm. You are going to see the first major release of these new hellebores across the country this holiday season, so do watch. for them in your favourite garden center.