Two Historic Hellebores

Fellow garden bloggers have been proudly showing their lovely Hellebores for several weeks now.  It is amazing how long the flowers last and they get ever more beautiful every day.

I showed my new acquisition: Helleborus x ericsmithii ‘Shooting Star’ on 15th January for Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day. Today, weeks later, it is still looking beautiful as the pink is now set off by jade green.

I have enjoyed admiring all the variations of blogging friends’ Hellebores. There are so many beautiful hybrids available nowadays that we are quite spoilt for choice. Hellebores are still expensive but not as dear as they used to be when they were bred clonally and breeders had to wait a long time to build up stock. These Hellebores never seemed to live long because they were often weak and suffered from viruses and they would gradually decline.

One of the pioneers of Hellebore breeding by the cross pollination of carefully selected strains was the great plantswoman: Elizabeth Strangman of Washfield Nursery. She generously published her techniques in her book: ‘The Gardener’s Guide to Growing Hellebores’. Her nursery was one of the most exciting I have ever visited. It was full of rare and exquisite treasures.

Helen Ballard, Eric Smith and Frederick Stern did some amazing hybridising of Hellebores but Elizabeth Strangman travelled extensively looking for Hellebores to use in her breeding programme. She discovered some double ones growing in the wild in Yugoslavia and used these as the basis for her breeding of doubles.

There are plenty of plenty of lovely double Hellebores around today: Robin White of Blackthorn Nursery and John Massey of Ashwood Nursery have taken up where Elizabeth left off and bred some superb doubles. I believe there are some American and German breeders producing beautiful doubles too. Years  ago when I first discovered the late Elizabeth Strangman’s  wonderful nursery at Washfield in Kent, doubles were an unusual sight, as was the amazing colour range she had bred. Apricots, yellows, slate, plum, spotted, speckled and picotees. They were all new to me and all lovely.

I still treasure the double Hellebore I bought that day more than 18 years ago. It has been dug up and moved several times as I have moved house. There are doubles far more beautiful than this now but this one will always be special to me. It just gets bigger and better each year and is a reminder of a great plantswoman without whom we would not have the wonderful range of Hellebores we have today.


Another special Hellebore which I have had for more than 20 years and dug up and moved around with me  is Helleborus  orientalis ‘Petsamo’.  it just improves with age. I cannot discover who bred this lovely hybrid or when. Netta Statham mentions it in her book; ‘My Plants and other Friends’. She says she got it from the Suffolk nurseryman Fred Barcock and mine comes from Fred Barcock’s  garden.  It is quite distinctive with its very large, pointed, star-like petals. I believe Roger Harvey used it in his breeding of the lovely ‘Bradfield Star’ hybrids. I love it and keep it apart from my other Hellebores so its rare offspring will come true. It doesn’t seem to seed around as much as the rest of its tribe.

If you would like to try your hand at hybridising Hellebores then Elizabeth Strangman’s book is an excellent guide.

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31 Responses to Two Historic Hellebores

  1. Your hellebore “Petsamo” is so beautiful and I’m glad it’s doing so well for you! As you know, I’m on Ashwood nursery’s doorstep. I am always amazed at the beautiful variations in colour they have on sale. I hang my head in shame to confess I haven’t bought as many of them as I could – could do better! I’ve only bought three, and I’m planning to show you them sometime soon.

    • Chloris says:

      Thank you.
      I look forward to seeing your Hellebores. If I lived so close to Ashwood Nursery I would be bankrupt by now. Their Hellebores are irresistible.

  2. Julie says:

    Really interesting Chloris, I really enjoy all of the research in your posts. Bradfields Star is gorgeous.

  3. Alain says:

    Thank you for telling us about Elizabeth Strangman’s book. It looks most interesting. Hellebores are amazing plants. In the first years I was gardening, they were thought to be not hardy and so we did not see them in Ontario gardens. They can survive cold winters, especially if there is a snow cover. They simply bloom later. They are popular here too now.

  4. Alison says:

    It was very interesting to read about the pioneering breeders of Hellebores in this post. Thanks! It’s great to have plants that are special to us for whatever reasons. Your two are both lovely!

  5. kate says:

    Very interesting – thank you. I definitely need more hellebores, though the wild wind in my garden does leave a lot to chance…

    • Chloris says:

      They are a joy at this time of the year. They tide us over from snowdrop time until all the other spring treasures are out. Not many flowers are as long lasting or fade so gracefully.

  6. Chloris says:

    Thank you Alison. And thank you for the comment. I don’t know how you found the time with all your seed sowing!

  7. Love the Bradford Star! Really nice shape to the flowers. I have never tried my hand at breeding – maybe when I retire!

  8. Chloris says:

    It’s something I mean to do when I have more time. The trouble is I never do have more time. So I leave it to the bees. They seem quite good at it.

  9. mrsdaffodil says:

    Ooooh! Aaaah! That’s for your double Hellebore. Interesting post–you’re in the right place for buying Hellebores.

    • Chloris says:

      Thank you, Mrs. Daffodil. Yes we are lucky here, we have some great Hellebore breeders. The trouble is there is so much temptation to get just one more. And it never stops at one.

  10. bittster says:

    That picture of the double with the snowflakes and primulas is all that spring should be! Love it and the white too, it’s great having such historic connections for your plants. Ballard, Smith and Stern- it’s like a collection of fancy hellebore prefixes!

  11. Sigh. I love Hellebores and can’t wait until the snow melts to see mine. 🙂 They are such amazing plants–so hard to believe they survive the coldest winters and then pop up earlier than just about every other plant. I agree–they look great through all their stages!

  12. Julie says:

    Living so close to Roger Harvey most of my hellebores have come from his nursery. As you say they are quite expensive plants to buy, but they give such a long season of interest and bulk up so well that I think they are worth the money.I have had problems with deer or rabbits biting the flower heads off – heart breaking as they don’t even eat them! I have moved them all within the fenced area of the garden now.

    • Chloris says:

      Roger does have a lovely range of Hellebores and snowdrops too. I love his woodland plants too and his cafe, The Orchard Room.
      The rabbits and deer probably bite their heads off then sensibly decide not to eat them. They are poisonous aren’t they?

      • Julie says:

        Yes I believe they are poisonous, but as far as I know so are narcissi and they don’t touch those. I think they do it out of spite – although I grow enough things they do eat that they should be grateful to me! I love the Orchard Room too – I also love Wyken – do you go there?

      • Chloris says:

        Yes, lovely garden , Good restaurant and the bistro is great for lunch.

  13. Flighty says:

    I have to say that although they are lovely flowers I’m not really a fan of hellebores, perhaps because it’s a plant that my mum didn’t grow in her garden. If I had a garden I would have some just for the colour that they provide at this time of year.
    Interesting, and informative, post and terrific pictures. xx

    • Chloris says:

      Well they are a joy in early spring. I can’t think of any other plant so captivating at this time of the year. Having said that your crocuses are a delight.

  14. Annette says:

    I definitely have to plant more hellebores as well. They seem to last forever and look stunning even afterwards. Just spotted one the other day in a 5 litre pot for 33 Euros – almost got a heart attack! Are they that expensive in the UK?

  15. Chloris says:

    Oh my goodness that is a lot. The last one I bought in January; the Ericsmithii hybrid was £ 15 and I thought that was expensive. I noticed that plants are very expensive when I was in France recently.

  16. Cathy says:

    Thanks for all that background info, Chloris. You are right that they are such stalwarts and (like my witch hazels, I suppose) therefore an investment – I was looking at my clumps this morning and admiring how they much they had grown – it may take a few years to get there but once they have then they make such an impact for several months.

  17. Chloris says:

    They do go on and on getting better and better. The Christmas rose: Helleborus Niger doesn’t though. Do you grow it? With me it gets smaller every year and then fades away.

  18. Simply gorgeous! I think it’s time I rectified the “hellebore-less” state of my garden! 🙂

  19. Anna says:

    Both beauties Chloris although I’m especially drawn to ‘Petsamo’ with its crisp white flowers. Netta Statham’s book maybe a slim volume but it makes for fascinating reading.

  20. Chloris says:

    You have her book too? I love it; to be honest she isn’t a great writer but she was a great plants woman and knew all the plants people of the time. I love to read the stories of her meetings with these people and all about the wonderful plants she grew.

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