Last week I was lucky enough to have an excuse to visit the RHS garden at Wisley. I had some plants on order that I needed to collect and by coincidence one of my sons had an important hockey match at Cobham so I found myself with a spare couple of hours to wander around the gardens and nursery before the match which is always dangerous! Entering the gardens, it would have been impossible to miss the fantastic display of hellebores on flower and for sale… not at cheap prices! For many years breeders have been concentrating on crossing selected H.orientalis hybrids in order to produce darker blooms, yellow blooms, double blooms and latterly anemone formed flowers with a central ruff of small petals, and waterlily flowers with inner rows of different sized petals. However, the plants that I was greeted with were much bigger and hugely more floriferous than any that I had encountered before. Needless to say, I came away with a few to plant here at Green Island.
Helleborus 'Anna's Red'
Attempts to breed Hellebores which combine all the best features of the four main Hellebore species have now resulted in much more robust varieties, many with more fully evergreen leaves, outward facing flowers, and up to four-month flowering periods. The Helleborus Gold collection from Germany includes hybrids of H. niger (The Christmas Rose) and these will now dependably flower at Christmas time or even as early as November. Several of this collection will be on view at Green Island Gardens soon, including ‘Rosado’ with forward facing picotee flowers, ‘Ice n Roses Red’, and ‘Ice n Roses White’.
The first widely available cross between H x hybridus and H niger, H.Walburton’s Rosemary has been available for several years and combines the outward facing blooms of H niger and the pink colouring of H.orientalis resulting in a strong growing floriferous plant which is spectacular when planted en-masse.
More recently developed, Rodney’s marbled group includes H.x sternii hybrids, which are crosses between H.niger and the Corsican hellebore, H.argutifolius, and have become much more widely available with impressive marbled green foliage and flowers in a range of colours from white through pinks to deep red. My favourite ‘Annas Red’, named after plantswoman Anna Pavord and bred by Rodney Davey has deep red flowers outward facing flowers. Others include ‘Glenda’s Gloss’ and ‘Cheryl’s Shine’. All are suitable for growing on a wide range of soils as long as they do not completely dry out in summer, and many of the new hybrids revel in full sun unlike the species which definitely prefer part shade, although complete shade will inhibit flowering. Hellebores are greedy feeders and all will benefit from a good feed after flowering in spring of a general-purpose feed or well-rotted manure.
As if we didn’t have enough choice with all the Helleborus orientalis hybrids already available? Now we have a multitude of new varieties with strong marbled foliage and outward facing flowers. What next? These strong new growers with double, anemone, yellow and black flowers are sure to follow!