|Helleborus orientalis The lenten rose.
I have many fine plants in my garden. Brenda scolds me that when plants are expensive, or difficult to propagate, I only have one! On the other hand easily propagated plants are rather well represented. In the case of lenten roses they are all over the place! They litter my cemetery gardens and are threatening to do the same on the village plot. They are very fine plants, yet today, this dull misty, typical Vale of York grey March morning, I feel rather jaundiced about them. I have loved hellebores for forty years. It’s bit like a marriage and one becomes complacent about a plant’s fine qualities. I have made a list of the reasons why they should regain my esteem.
- They flower prolifically for three months and come into flower in February when flowers are so welcome. Unfortunately except for some exciting new varieties their flowers nod to the ground. You need to get on your knees….
- The individual flowers have exquisite beauty. Although they do not completely come true from seed, every new plant is of remarkable quality and normally not very dis-similar to its parent.
- They have the potential to naturally seed themselves and naturalise to make fine large clumps.
- They grow anywhere. Dry situations in shady woods right through to full sunshine in somewhat wet places. They thrive in all manner of soils, be they light or heavy, acid or alkali. They infiltrate into all manner of places such as cracks and crevices between rocks and paving.
- They even recover from a careless glyphosate spray!
- Their fine glossy foliage shines throughout the whole year - but read on about leaf disease.
- The plant is completely hardy - although this March, almost uniquely, a few of my plants exposed to strong, persistent, dry winds when they were hard frozen, were scorched.
Easy to propagate from seed.
|All these hellebores have been raised from seed. The top six are small variations on their parents. The bottom two species for practical purposes ‘come true’.
Most garden species of helleborus seed themselves freely and germinate when the soil is still cold in January and February. In gardens where proper weed control is established the seedlings are prolific and perhaps more important, not hidden, or worse overgrown. They can be left to naturalise or be carefully eased-out of the ground to be grown-on in seed or potting compost. Young plants move very well with little check. In my own case I frequently lift out one and two year-old plants and pot them up for sale on open days several months later.
|Self sown plants move very readily
If you prick out newly germinated seed they will take three years to produce flowering plants. This might seem a long time to impatient propagators. The fun of having gardened a long time is that you have maturing young plants in your nursery system and each year are rewarded with fine new plants.
|Last summer I pricked out two dozen of self sown ‘Broughton Beauty’ ( I still have twenty!)
Vegetative propagation by division
This is the only way to raise new stock of genetically identical, named helleborus varieties - if you are new to horticulture read this link In the past and without much enthusiasm, I have used a sharp spade to slice out large divisions and have planted them in client’s gardens. If lifted and planted in late autumn they have already initiated flower buds and flower well in Spring, only to disappoint the following year!
Planted at other times they just sulk for a year or two before they become established. I think you might divine I am not too keen!
Removing old leaves
Recently some blogs I follow, have questioned the practice of cutting back old leaves in Autumn. It does seem a pity when the leaves still are healthy and glossy. Why reduce all that photosynthetic activity and weaken the plants? They may have a point but I have no intention of changing my established practice at this stage. I do however wait until Christmas before cutting them back! There are two sound reasons to cut back.
- Disease control. There are a quite a large number of fungal leaf diseases that will badly disfigure hellebores. Cutting back leaves and removing them from the site is an important cultural control which gives new growth a clean start.
- Fresh new leaves appear alongside new flowers which are much more attractive when not hidden by old leaves.
|Leaf spot disease
Helleborus orientalis can be completely cut to the ground - assuming new flowers have not yet appeared. Such harsh cutting back may not be appropriate with other species that carry flowers on the old stem structure. With such plants it is best to carefully remove individual diseased leaves.
Writing this post seems to have restored my enthusiasm for hellebores. I have splashed out on three plants from Ashwoods Nurseries today!