Despite it being "clean the tools weekend" I did not spend the whole time in the tool shed – when Sunday turned out fine I took the chance to do some pricking out in the glasshouse, with the last of the iris seedlings to line out, and the Delphinium seedlings I grew from the seed from Dowdeswells to put into pots. I got a lot done but ran out of potting mix and needed to go to the local garden centre, always dangerous because there are going to be things there I am going to covet.
This time it was a great display of Hellebores, with singles, doubles and all sorts of in between forms on display. Commonly known as ‘Winter Roses’ (although they are not remotely related to roses) these are fabulous plants for the late winter/early spring garden, available in a range of subtle colours, very apt for this time of the year.
Hellebores are not too fussy about where they grow as long as the soil is not too dry, and as long as it does not become bogged over winter. They are perfectly happy in semi-shade, or even complete
shade, but they will equally well cope with full sun, as long as the soil they are planted in has plenty
of organic matter.
Once you have got them established trim off the dying leaves of deciduous varieties and remove the
seed heads as well, encouraging good strong growth and more flowers.
One of the first species to flower is Helleborus niger, mainly seen in the stunning form called ‘White
Magic’. This has brilliant white porcelain–like flowers, relatively large and carried close to the
foliage, which remains tidy over the summer. I think this is one that looks best planted in clumps if
you can afford to be extravagant. It is also long-lived – our plant was one of the first we bought and
it is still thriving after nearly fifteen years.
I was intrigued to see a new variety – to me anyway – H. ‘Ivory Prince’. 'Ivory Prince' is a complex
hybrid with beautiful, dark blue-green foliage thick and ivory-white flowers that age to pink and
eventually green. It seems to be very vigorous and I am sure will quickly become a form favourite.
The showiest species is undoubtedly H. orientalis. I remember these well from my grandparents’
garden, where they grew in wilderness-like semi-shade, in a profusion of shades from greenish-
white, through to a sort of carmine pink, some of the flowers stained with deeper colours.
I wonder what my grandparents would say if they saw modern forms with their improved range of
colours and forms – I think they would hardly recognise them. There are now some very deep red,
almost block forms, and some that verge on gun metal grey, with the appearance of a bloom on the
blooms, so to speak.
I am very taken with bi-coloured flowers, and there are some fantastic seed raised varieties available
in this range. They generally have a ground colour that is white, light pink, or the chartreuse-like
colour Hellebore growers call yellow. The ground colour is enhanced by dark highlights, usually deep
Another form that I am taken with is the anemone centred form, with a little ruff of quill shaped
petals surrounding the stamen at the centre of the flower. When this is combined with a bicoloured
flower the effect is remarkable.
There are also many double forms available now, the doubling varying greatly from quite neat
rounded petals, to Raggedy Ann mish mashes of petals – very informal and not quite to my taste
although I can see how they would appeal to others.
All the above forms were on display at my local garden centre – as they are seed raised you really
need to see them in flower to ensure you are getting what you want. And they are not just valuable
for the garden – they perform very well when picked for the house, so useful at this time of the year
when the spring flush is still a month or two away. You’d go a long way to find more attractive long-
term perennials for the garden and house.