Early spring star performers in the early spring

Phyl Boyce

Reporter:

Phyl Boyce

Early spring star performers in the early spring

These lovely Hellebores are adding a spot of colour in early spring in Phyl's own garden

Hellebores are great plants to produce flowers to brighten up the garden at this time of the year.

They are marvellous plants for a shady position but most of them do not require a lot of shade. The best known species are Helleborus orientalis (Lenten Rose) and Helleborus niger (Christmas rose), these include thousands of different varieties.

The Lenten rose produces flowers that are open and cup-shaped with a nodding head. There is no better past-time than to lift their heads and stare into their remarkable centres. They come in mute colours of green, white, pale-pink, primrose yellow through to the most exquisite plum purple. All these colours may be enhanced by varying degrees of dark red spots, the flower outline may be round or slightly star shaped. Growing about 12 inches tall, they make excellent ground cover under trees.

Helleborus niger, also known as the black hellebore because of its black roots, is the best known species of the Christmas rose family. It produces nodding flowers that open as early as January and continue until late April. Helleborus niger has been crossed with other species to produce some interesting hybrids such as ‘Potter’s Wheel’ which has white flowers up to 5 inches across with fine broad overlapping petals.

Breeding new varieties of hellebores has reached almost cult status in recent years. There are so many new varieties produced each year it is impossible to keep up with the new names. Breeders have produced double flowers with rich coloured centres. Hellebores that flower well will produce seed that will germinate to produce new seedlings. Some of the seedlings can be potted up and grown on to produce plants that will flower after about three years. It can be exciting waiting for the new flower to appear because it may be a different colour than the parent plant because hellebores cross-pollinate easily so you may finish up with an interesting new variety. It is best to divide your clump of special varieties after flowering to increase your stock of hellebores. Hellebores do not come true from seed and this is the reason why choice varieties are so expensive.

Most hellebores grow well in cool conditions and moisture under trees and shrubs in partial shade. They appreciate plenty of organic matter in the soil, topped up with a mulch in late summer just as the new flower buds are developing for the following year. All types prefer a sheltered position away from the effects of strong icy winds in winter which can damage the emerging blooms and leaves. Old leaves can look tatty around flowering time, these leaves can be removed to expose the flowers to their maximum potential. Newly planted specimens may take a few years to settle down but once established will flower undisturbed for years.

Hellebores, like roses, can suffer from a type of black spot that is unsightly and in severe cases can kill the plant. A systemic fungicide, drenching the whole plant will help prevent this disease. The badly affect plant should have the worse affected leaves removed and burned to prevent spread of the disease. Now is the time to visit your garden centre and make your selection of plants to provide a lifetime of colour during the longest, coldest months of the year. When you buy plants, in full flower, at this time of the year you see what you are getting.

Jobs for the week

Check all young trees and shrubs planted since last autumn to ensure that they have not been wind-rocked and water them well.

The greenhouse has been invaluable this spring because of the mixed weather. Our greenhouse is full of seedlings waiting to be planted out in the garden. Begin feeding all greenhouse plants and house plants to move them into rapid growth as the weather warms up. Check for greenflies and other pests.

Onion sets and early potatoes can be planted now, the soil is dry enough but still very cold.