Monday 23 October 2017

Hardy hellebores are giving us a frill

Popular: Elegant hellebores sometimes have a frilly, wavy edge to the petals and they are often speckled inside
Popular: Elegant hellebores sometimes have a frilly, wavy edge to the petals and they are often speckled inside

Gerry Daly

Hellebores have become very popular in recent years, and justifiably so.

They have started into growth really early this year and are coming along ahead of schedule, encouraged by the mild autumn and winter weather. Of course, the lovely white Christmas rose, which is closely related, has been very good this year too.

The Lenten hellebore is an outstanding flower, the earliest flowers appearing in February, perhaps even January this year. Its flowers last into April for the very good reason that they are tough, known as bracts, formed of tissue that is more like leaves than petals. This is why the flowers are green before they grow to full size and only colour up fully then.

After pollination of the flowers, the colour drains slowly away, the flowers returning to their original green colour. The remaining flower parts protect the developing seed pods. Quite large, round seeds are freely produced and these frequently germinate close to the parent plant in gardens, and can be transplanted when grown. Occasionally a new colour or form arises.

The large flowers are five to seven centimetres across, carried on strong stems and held above the older evergreen foliage, the new leaves emerging in late winter.

Lenten roses flower at the same time as spring bulbs and the purple, pink and white shades of the hellebore flowers make a great combination with yellow daffodils and tulips of any colour.

Increased popularity has led to the breeding and selection of many new kinds, which, in turn, has further ignited interest.

The range of colours is principally white, pink, greenish or deep wine in colour, often speckled wine inside, and there are many new shades including yellow, blue-grey, plum and almost black.

Most kinds, though not all, are carried nodding and have to be turned up to see the pattern of spotting on the inside. Some are heavily spotted, some not at all. Some flowers have a frilly, wavy edge to the petals. There are double-flowered kinds too, though not particularly attractive as they lack the elegance of the simple single layer of overlapping bracts, but they are popular.

Although this hellebore comes from the eastern Mediterranean region, it is quite hardy. It is also tolerant of a fair degree of shade, though not the really deep shade of evergreens. They do nicely in the shade of deciduous trees, being evergreen and starting into growth several months before the leaves appear on trees. They love rich, leafy soil that is well-drained but retaining some moisture.

If hellebore leaf spot, an ugly black spotting on the foliage, appears, remove the leaves in early winter to reduce its spread.

This hellebore is a colourful, long-lived plant, does not spread much and is largely weed resistant due to its large leaves.

Sunday Independent

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