Friday, 10 August 2012

Winter Roses (Helleborus)

Winter Roses are really coming into their own, with buds opening throughout the garden. I bend down and look into their beautiful centres: spotted, veined, double, semi-double. Most are pink, magenta, and white while the Sun and Sky bed has some nice single flowers of acid yellow. And they are fashionable!
A visit to Post Office Farm Nursery near Woodend yielded some beauties: double Helleborus of lemon, white and buttery yellow. Peter Leigh has bred some extraordinarily handsome plants with flowers of pure hue, not muddied by green; neat doubles, not messy; and some plants have blooms that face outwards, not always dangling. Some are getting larger I think, but not overpoweringly so.
I brought home a lemon hellebore which has water lily-like flowers (above); arranged with some yellow and white plants near the front door, I look at them every day and purr. The almost gold one above is one of Peter’s plants and shows his advanced breeding; these are amongst the finest in the world.
I am trying to keep my yellow and pink hellebores separate; I imagine progeny might result in `apricot peach’ flowers and I’m not a fan of these.
Plant breeding can involve paint brushes to transfer pollen and careful labeling of each flower but I’m not patient enough for this. I get nice seedlings the old fashioned way, by putting 2 plants near each other, but not for the same reason. In the 19th century plant breeders did not want to play god but after putting the 2 plants near each other would hope bees would carry out the desired divine intervention; I’m just too lazy (and there’s some bees here on sunny days).
Hellebores can take dry shade but they do like some sunshine on these cold winter days. White flowering plants look wonderful in dark corners but I like some of the more subtle flowers too. Helleborus x sternii (below) has handsome serrated leaves of bottle-green overlaid with silvery veins. Helleborus argutifolius and H. lividus are its parents and I particularly like the forms with enough white mottling for the foliage to appear quite snowy.
I still have a few winter roses in the garden with flowers of messy shape or – more rarely – slightly muddy colours. I’m pretty fussy! So I’ll get out the spade soon and give a few to friends; sharing plants is undoubtedly one of the joys of gardening.

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