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It is an English legend that says that a little shepherd girl of Bethlehem followed after the shepherds who had received the angel’s message of the birth of the Christ child and were journeying to the stable. All the shepherds took along gifts for the newborn child, but the little girl had no gift to give.
As she lagged behind the others, somewhat sad at heart, there suddenly appeared an angel in a glow of light, who cleared away the girl’s tears from the snow at her feet, and there appeared beautiful white roses in her path. Eagerly, the little girl gathered them in her arms and laid them at the manger as her gift to the little Lord Jesus.
Today we know that flower is the Helleborus niger, or Christmas Rose. It is one of the
easiest and most rewarding garden plants to grow. Their habit of blooming in the darkest months of the year when everything else is frozen solid makes them a joy in the garden. A Christmas Rose will produce flowers from late fall till early spring.
The Christmas Rose is an evergreen perennial that grows 12 to 15 inches in height and has shiny, dark green, pointed, leathery leaves. Each flower stalk bears a single white bloom, two to four inches across, sometimes tinged with pink.
Christmas Rose plants are hardy in Zones 4 to 8, and that includes Southside Virginia. They should be planted in partial shade or preferably under deciduous trees, which allows them to receive sunlight in winter. Be sure to protect them from strong winter winds. They require deep, fertile, well draining but moist soil. The soil should be neutral or slightly alkaline and should be generously enriched with peat moss, leaf mold, or compost before planting in early spring.
Christmas Roses have a deep growing root system, so the roots should be planted downward, rather than spread out below the soil surface, and the crown of the plant (the point where the stem and roots intersect) should be an inch below the surface. It takes quite a while for Christmas Roses to become established, after which they should not be disturbed.
If you can bear to take the blooms from the plant, Hellebores of any cultivar make
excellent long-lasting cut flowers if the stem ends are dipped into boiling water before placing in cold water.
My Hellebores, usually called Lenten Roses, bloom beginning in December and usually
last through at least March or April. They have dark purple, almost black blooms and to me are completely anachronistic. This fact alone, blooming when all around them is wintry, makes them the most valued plants in the yard.
My Christmas wish for all of you –
God rest ye merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay,
Remember, Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day,
To save us all from Satan’s pow’r when we were gone astray.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy;
O tidings of comfort and joy!
–Traditional English Carol