Gone are the days when growing hellebores meant Lenten roses, which we used to call Helleborus orientalis, in pinks and creams, and struggling to keep our Christmas roses, H. niger, from fading away.
Lenten roses now come in exciting new flower forms, and have also changed their botanical name. And at last, Christmas roses really will flower at Christmas, and there’s a host of superb new hybrids, some of them entirely unexpected.
Dependable doubles such as the 12 in the Winter Jewels series, which come in a wonderful array of shades, are simply captivating, and many people also appreciate the anemone-centred types with a dense cluster of half-formed petals in the centre. They’re all now referred to as H. × hybridus, reflecting the fact that a number of different species are in their background.
You can now depend on Christmas roses flowering at Christmas, or sometimes even in November, as many of those in the Helleborus Gold Collection are dependably early. Look out in particular, for ‘HGC Jacob’ and ‘HGC Josef Lemper’ (see photo).
We now also have the first widely-available cross between these two species. Walberton’s Rosemary (‘Walhero’) brings together pink colouring and robust growth of H. × hybridus and the outward facing flowers of H. niger. It’s a prolific and vigorous plant. This season’s new 'Harvington Rebekah' is similar.
Hybrids between H. niger and the Corsican hellebore, H. argutifolius, the Majorcan hellebore, H. lividus, and the hybrid between the Corsican and the Majorcan species, H. × sternii, have also become much more widely available and combine impressive evergreen foliage - often prettily marbled - with flowers in a range of colours from white through pinks to deep red.
Look out for ‘Anna’s Red’, ‘Bob’s Best’, 'Ivory Prince', ‘Penny’s Pink’, ‘Pink Frost’, ‘Ruby Glow’, ‘HGC Silvermoon’ (see photo), and ‘Winter Moonbeam’, ‘Winter Sunshine’ and others as they come on the market.
Finally another, very unexpected hybrid to try, H. × sahinii ‘Winterbells’ is a hybrid between the stinking hellebore, H. foetidus, and H. niger. It’s very hardy and oddly, considering its name, it sometimes flowers in midsummer.
These are exciting times for hellebore enthusiasts, with so many impressive new forms to try.
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