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.