Plant Collector – double hellebores

The pretty double hellebores

The pretty double hellebores

When we were in England in the mid nineties, Mark was taken to meet plant breeder Robin White who played a large role in introducing double hellebores to the market – known for his Party Dress series. We had not seen the doubles in this country at that stage and Mark was absolutely fascinated by how quickly and how far it was possible to get in breeding a whole new strain of helleborus. These days double hellebores are widely available in New Zealand, thanks mainly to Clifton Homestead Nursery, with a range of colours and under half the price they were when first introduced.

The doubles are not the same as the common Helleborus orientalis types and you can see that the foliage is quite different with deeply divided leaves. They also tend to flower later. Most are bred from a very limited number of double forms of Helleborus torquatus which is native to the former Yugoslavia. Torquatus has also had a role to play in introducing the highly desirable deep slate colours. In 1971 Elizabeth Strangman found just two plants showing double flowers somewhere in the nether regions of Montenegro and the quest to stabilise double forms started immediately. It appears that the majority of the doubles on the market still descend from those two plants. Most helleborus are single and have five petals. A semi double has an extra layer of petals (so about 10 all up), a full double has more. They all still face downwards so these gentle plants are better suited to people who take time to look at the detail of their garden and to turn the flowers upwards to admire them, unless you plant them on a slope to be viewed from below.