Gardening: Plant Hunters Article - February/March 23
Heavenly Hellebores by Martin Blow
Hellebores are one of the stars of the winter and spring garden with large bowl-shaped flowers in an increasing range of colours and patterns; there’s always new varieties to collect and grow and self-sown seedlings often produce surprising new variations.
The season starts with the so-called Christmas Rose, Helleborus niger, which despite its common name, doesn’t usually start flowering until late winter. The flowers are white or pinkish white. The Christmas Rose is not the easiest to grow and benefits from shelter and perhaps even a cloche in high rainfall areas.
More popular and easier to grow is the Lenten Rose, H. orientalis, which naturally has white, pink or spotted flowers but is also naturally variable so new varieties and surprise seedlings are always popping up. This variety will grow in sun or partial shade and is an ideal woodland plant as well as at the front of formal borders.
The Lenten Rose hybridises readily with other species and there are many named varieties in colours and patterns including mixes of white, pink, red, maroon, green and yellow. Most have flowers that hang down, so you have to lift them to see the patterns inside the flower, but some varieties are being introduced with more upward facing flowers; easily to see but perhaps less graceful?
Some Hellebore species come from the Mediterranean region and can tolerate sunny and dry conditions provided they can get their roots down deep. H. argutifolius, d H.lividus, and their hybrids are short-lived but seed easily and tolerate hot, dry conditions fairly well. These have white or green flowers in spring and early summer.
There are several English wild native species. H.foetidus, the Stinking Hellebore, is a good subject for a well-drained woodland or woodland edge position. The “stinking” comes from the unpleasant smell of the crushed leaves not the flowers. The flowers of H. viridis are a glaucous green often with purple markings inside. This plant needs a heavy moist soil to do well.
Hellebores naturally grow on chalky soils, so may struggle in very acid soils – add a dressing of lime each year in this case. Having said that our soil grows Camellias and Rhodos well and Hellebores do okay for us.
Fresh or self-sown seed are most successful with seedlings taking up to 2-4 years to flower.
Keep them well-fed with an annual mulch of well-rotted mature or compost and they will reward you with masses of those charming flowers early in the year.
Janet & I organise Plant Hunters’ Fairs, specialist plant fairs at wonderful locations. Please see www.planthuntersfairs.co.uk for a full list of our 2023 plant fairs. Please check our website for ticketing information and all the latest updates before travelling. Plant Fair Dates for your diary 2023:
Southwell Minster, NG25 0HD on Sunday 19th March, plant fair entry £2. Bodenham Arboretum, DY11 5TB on Saturday 1st April, free entry to plant fair. Middleton Hall, Nr Tamworth, B78 2AE on Sunday 16th April, entry to Gardens & Plant Fair only £3.50 (special reduced entry price). 1620s House and Garden, Nr. Coalville, LE67 2FW on Saturday 22nd April, entry to Garden & Plant Fair £1.