I have to admit that I am a hellebore bore. I am crazy about winter blooming flowers. I spend hours crooning over snowdrops and then we get the hellebores which start in January and then get better and better throughout February and into March. Hellebores should head my list of Top Ten February blooms which I will post on Sunday but I think they deserve a post of their own. So many plants when they are over -hybridised are made ugly and ungainly with short stems and much bigger faces than nature intended, but new hellebore hybrids get ever more stunning. I am entranced by some of the newest cultivars, many of them with girls’ names. Some of them, bred by Rodney Davey after years of painstaking work are fabulous. They have marbled leaves and large, outward -facing flowers. This one was named ‘Anna”s Red’ as a compliment to Anna Pavord. Behind it you can see the new part of my winter garden which I have not finished planting yet. There will be a path right through it lined with box balls. I am not a great fan of topiary but if we do get snow it is fun to have snowballs in the winter garden.
Other Rodney Davey hybrids include Helleborus x hybridus ‘Penny’s Pink’.
Helleborus x hybridus ‘Molly’s White’
Helleborus x hybridus ‘Cheryl’s Shine’
I am keeping an eye out for more lovely Rodney Davey hybrids such as ‘Sally’s Shell’, ‘Glenda’s Gloss’, ‘Pippa’s Purple’ and ”Dana’s Dulcet’.
A few years ago I got very excited by some lovely ‘ericsmithii’ hybrids which had masses of flowers and marbled leaves. I bought two or three and put them in the sunny spot they are supposed to enjoy. I have lost all of them. Here is lovely Helleborus x ericsmithii’ ‘Shooting Stars’ in 2017. There is no sign of it now, I hope the Rodney Davis hybrids prove to be more long lasting.
Although they are still expensive, comparatively speaking, hellebores are not as dear as they used to be. I first got hooked more than 20 years ago when I visited Elizabeth Strangman’s wonderful nursery in Kent. She was a pioneer in hellebore breeding and sold them in a range of amazing colours ranging from primrose to apricot, all through shades of pink to red and from slate to black. I had never seen these wonderful hellebore colours before. She was one of the first to breed doubles. I still have this one which I bought all those years ago.
Of course we are used to seeing doubles now and very pretty they are too in their party dresses. Many of the new hybrids with girls’ names are very vigorous and as they are micro -propagated they are much cheaper than they used to be.
Another hellebore which I bought from Elizabeth Strangman was a lovely picotee one. This is white delicately veined and edged with dark pink.
Another special one which I brought from my previous garden is an old variety which may have originated there when it was an nursery. It is called ‘Petsamo’ and has large pure white flowers with pointed petals.
It doesn’t have many seedlings, this one has inherited the large pointed flowers but has pink spots which rather spoil it.
I particularly love anemone-flowered hellebores where the ovaries look like an Elizabethan ruff inside the flower.
I have often read and heard it said that it is not worth saving hellebore seedlings because they will end up with washed out colours but this is absolute nonsense. If you want solid blocks of one colour then I suppose you have to stick to one variety but how boring. And anyway it would be prohibitively expensive to have carpets of special named varieties. Mine seed about in abundance, both the ones I brought with me and the ones that were already here. I have huge carpets of them in a tapestry of colours and I love every one.
These all used to be known as Helleborus orientalis but as there are so many crosses they are now known as Helleborus x hybridus. Sometimes you get an unusual seedling like this one which has small green striped flower which look as if there could have been with a cross with the native Helleborus foetidus which abounds in the garden.
As I have hundreds of hellebores it always seems extravagant to buy expensive new ones. Nevertheless, every year I treat myself to a couple of new ones. My pride and joy this year is a new German hybrid called ‘Helleborus x ballardiae ‘Cinnamon Snow’. Along with Elizabeth Strangman, Helen Ballard was one of the earliest hellebore hybridisers. It appears that one of her hellebores was a parent of this beautiful plant. It has cinnamon coloured flowers which area perfect match for the shiny bark of Prunus serrula.
So there we have it, I could go on and on, as I said I am a hellebore bore but I will stop now in case you are all falling asleep.