Magazine article The Spectator

Bravely Blooming

Magazine article The Spectator

Bravely Blooming

Article excerpt

Gardens

Oh, no. It's the hellebore season again, and I am not quite up to it. Studying and cultivating these plants undermines my confidence. It's not that I don't love them. I do. Especially the `Lenten rose', forms of what we used to call Helleborus orientalis (well, still do, really) but should call Helleborus x hybridus.Who could not love them, considering their bravery in flowering during the first three months of the year and their tolerance, indeed preference for, semi-shaded positions, of which I can offer them a great variety? And the flowers open cups, like huge buttercups (to which they are closely related), with prominent stamens in the centre, often surrounded by spotting, speckling or blotching - are endlessly fascinating.

Plants of Helleborus x hybridus are not always easy to grow well, for they are best in that oxymoronic construct, a rich, moist, but well-drained, soil. Moreover, greenfly and slugs love them too, and a fungal disease called `black spot' causes the evergreen leaves to blacken and crinkle as if they were paper to which a match had been set. (By the by, it is not too late to cut all the leaves away, to display the emerging flowers to their best advantage and to try to prevent reinfection next year.) But that is not what undermines me, since these hellebores are no harder to grow well than many other garden plants, and greater efforts are justified when one considers the season of their flowering.

No, the real problem with Lenten hellebores is that they are difficult to identify and name correctly, mainly because they interbreed so enthusiastically with similar species. Of course, that very difficulty makes the hellebore a collector's joy, since some people unaccountably thrive on a challenge. Over the last 50 years or so, a number of botanist/gardeners have seized on them as fit subjects for their minute attention. Margery Fish, Eric Smith, Jim Archibald, Helen Ballard, Elizabeth Strangman, Robin and Sue White (Blackthorn Nursery), Will Mcl,ewin (Phedar Nursery) and John Massey (Ashwood Nurseries), amongst others, have all left their mark on hellebores. In the case of the `Lenten rose', they have achieved more vigorous garden plants, singles with larger than usual flowers and a much wider range of colours, including a very pleasing yellow, as well as picotees. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.