Hellebore update

I meant to do a round-up across the different hellebore types we grow here this year but I left my run too late. There is more to hellebores than just the most common H. orientalis types and some of the other species and inter-species crosses are also interesting and fill a different niche in the garden. But I had to make do with mostly H. orientalis and a few hybrids for today’s picking.

Late season flowers, so not an accurate guide to the flower size and colour. Left to right: Anna’s Red, Penny’s Pink, Molly’s White, Ruby Daydream and Sophie’s Delight

We are very impressed by the garden performance of the hybrids from UK breeder, Rodney Davey and sold as his ‘Marbled Group’. So impressed have we been by ‘Anna’s Red’, ‘Penny’s Pink’ and ‘Molly’s White’, that we added ‘Ruby Daydream’ and ‘Sophie’s Delight’ this year. There are more in that range but whether they have come into New Zealand yet, I don’t know. All are characterised by excellent marbled foliage which is most appealing and outward facing flowers that sit above the foliage. The first three named above also appear to be sterile, which is a good thing as far as hellebores go. Many hellebores can be promiscuous seeders. The Davey group are a big improvement on many of the orientalis types. His hellebores are hybrids so have mixed species parentage but I haven’t seen the details of what he has used made public anywhere and we would never criticise him for keeping that information to himself. There are way too many people out there just waiting to copy, as we know to our own cost, and he has put many years of work into getting this new strain of hellebores. If you are in the market for hellebores, buy them.

The same can not be said for hellebores ‘Jacob’ and ‘Josef Lemper’. I bought them both last year because they looked terrific in the garden centre. Josef collapsed and died within weeks so I even bought a second plant because I liked it, despite them both setting frightening amounts of seed. This year – nothing. I know where I planted them but if they flowered again, it was so insignificant that I failed to register it and the plants that I think are them, are but poor specimens now. There is a big difference between having a brilliant looking hellebore in a pot and garden performance. This all makes more sense now that I realise they were H. niger, not H.orientalis  as I had earlier assumed, .

Look at the flower power of Angel Glow in the garden

‘Angel Glow’, bought at the same time, is a beaut. It is another hybrid and it has mass flowered two years in a row. If it keeps on doing as well, I will be delighted. The ever-handy internet tells me it is an H x ericsmithii selection which makes it a three way cross between niger (which gives it the upward facing blooms) and sternii which is itself a cross between argutifolius and lividus. I just give you that information in case you wanted to know. It makes it very different to H. orientalis but it fills a similar niche in the garden as a plant. The pretty H. niger is forever disappointing in our climate (I think it wants it drier and colder) but the hybrid vigour of ‘Angel Glow’ sets it apart from that parent.

The border was looking better this year

I redid our 30 metres of Helleborus orientalis border three years ago. After decades of easy care gardening, it had lost much of its charm. The next two years were a bit ho-hum in performance but it has come into its own this winter. Hellebores can take a little while to establish well. Most of the plants I used were ones Mark has raised in his quest for better garden performance – so with longer stems of sufficient strength to hold the blooms above the foliage and with outward facing flowers.  We have a fair old mix of established shrubs in the border so keeping the underplanting primarily to hellebores gives it a certain unity. But I also added a whole array of odds and sods in bulbs – mixed dwarf narcissi, snowdrops, cyclamen and bluebells in the main but also other strays that would perform in semi shade. It adds another layer of interest through winter and spring and it has been very pretty this year.

The slate shades can look better picked than in the garden…

… but add white and the contrast makes them sing

Mark is not keen on murky pinks, is scathing about most green flowers and doesn’t like pink and green colour mixes so most of his seedlings are either red or white. We had also been given some of the newer slate colours and have a few doubles carried over from when they were the rage. The slates are a really curious shade when you look at them closely but that colour tends to be quite flat and dead in a garden situation unless surrounded by plenty of white. The plants we have all hang their heads, too (downward facing flowers). This is also true of the double hellebores – the weight of the flowers makes them downward facing, which is not so great in a flat border.

There is quite a bit of trial and error on garden performance with H. orientalis. When they are good, they are very, very good. When they are not, they can be disappointing, even more so if you have gone out and paid garden centre prices for a plant that looked great at time of purchase but never as good again. And it is not so much a gap as a gulf between a good hellebore and a very ordinary seedling one.

9 thoughts on “Hellebore update

  1. nays

    For me, the blooms have always gotten infested with aphids and I rip them out. Even in the garden centres around here they seem to have aphids a lot of the time. It’s a shame because I find them charming, but not when covered with the little green nasties. Do they get left alone in your garden?

  2. tonytomeo

    You know, with all the pretty cultivars out there, most of what we sold were just seedlings from our stock plants! I do not even know how we got into the habit of selling them. They just appear under the stock plants. Rather than discarding them, we can them, and clients buy them. It was not my idea.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Most orientalis that were sold in times past were seedlings. If you were lucky, you got seedlings from a patch of plants that were all very similar so will have cross pollinated to produce a similar strain. Otherwise, it just becomes pot luck because they cross so freely that the offspring could be anything.

      1. tonytomeo

        The seedlings were actually very similar to their parents, and the parents were very similar to each other. I did not know much about them at the time. The clients really liked them, and were pleased to take even tired plants, because they are so uncommon here. The colors were rather soft, and those from particular groups were not all that variable. I liked to keep batches from individual plants or patches of plants more or less separated, but once the clients purchased them, they just mixed them all up.

  3. André Johnke

    Helleborus niger is one our native plants. It is found here in subalpine meadows, often associated with calcsilicate rocks in a fairly heavy moist loam. These meadows are always exposed to full sun for the whole day with no shade at all. This plant is difficult to grow even here where it is at home. Alkaline soil, full sun, and not to much organic material around the roots is what it needs. As it only grows at higher elevations, it is adapted to very cold winter temperatures, which may be one reason why it struggles in your climate.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Well thank you for that. Clearly our conditions are way too soft for it, compounded by acid, volcanic soils which are humus rich! I think it is more successful in Central Otago which would be closer to alpine meadow conditions. Sometimes we just have to draw a line underneath a plant and accept that it will never be happy in our situation. Lovely hellebore, though.

  4. katesnewgarden

    Very interesting post. I’ve found Hellebore corsica and sternii both do well in Northland under totaras – a dry and difficult site. Atractive in leaf and flower over a long period.

Comments are closed.