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Helleborus

Posted on 24th March 2016

Helleborus orientalis is a very variable species that will self-seed readily and will produce a wide range of flower colours and shapes in its offspring, it also hybridises freely and the resulting Helleborus x hybridus are equally variable. You will often see different variants and hybrids offered for sale as unnamed varieties and this is because they are grown from seed and each individual can be distinct from others within a batch of seedling plants, there are far too many attractive variations to name them all. If a particularly attractive seedling is to be named and sold as a cultivar it must be cloned (vegetative propagation such as cuttings and division). This is a lengthy process because it takes several years for a clump to reach a large enough size for dividing and Hellebores dislike disturbance. They do not produce stems with nodes so cuttings are not possible.

Named cultivars are often expensive because of this process but the desire for double flowers, dark purple to black and upward pointing flowers is such that plants that display some or all of these characteristics are sought after and therefore worthy of the process.

Helleborus are typically understory plants and are at their best when planted in natural drifts under trees and shrubs to give an early display of ground cover, they complement early spring bulbs and other winter interest herbaceous perennials such as Arum italicum ‘Marmoratum’ and thrive in humus rich, neutral to alkaline soils in shade or semi shade. They do best in a moisture retentive soil but can cope with dryer soils as long as they are not in full sun.

The leaves are evergreen but leaves from the previous season should be cut off at ground level in mid-winter just before the flower buds start to develop. You will then benefit from a stunning display of flowers that are not hidden by the tatty older leaves, new leaves will start to grow as the flowers fade. Division can take place every 5-8 years in autumn but don’t be afraid to let them self-seed or save some of the developing seeds and cultivate them, sow in autumn but don’t treat them too kindly, they need exposure to cold over the winter in order to break the dormancy and they will then readily germinate in spring.