For many gardeners it is the green-flowered hellebores that truly hold sway over the garden. H. foetidus and H argutifolius have bold foliage, sturdy stems and are quite drammatic.
The unglamorously named "stinking hellebore" has dark green foliage that is deeply cut and nodding flowers of pale green edged with maroon. The lime green flowers are invaluable and light the garden for weeks in winter.
H. foetidus is a tall growing plant that can reach 1.0m (39in). It can easily become top-heavy, some discrete staking is worthwhile especially if you have an exposed garden.
Nodding flowers of H. foetidus light up the garden
H argutifolius (syn. H. corsicus) has broad, lighter coloured leaves divided into three spined sections. The flowers are paler than H. foetidus,more cream than green, and more open. The stems are fleshy and, again, as the plant become top-heavy, staking can prevent it becoming a sprawling mess.
H. argutifolius is less hardy than the hellebore covered so far, but can be grown in most gardens given a well-drained soil that does not dry out in summer. Removing the leaves once flowering is over helps to prevent black spot. As the plants are not long-lived (about five years) replacements should be grown from seed.
H. lividus is less hardy again, and is not often seen in gardens and has become rare in the wild. It is similar to H. argutifolius although much lower growing (to about 40cm (15in), and the foliage is appears almost flecked with silver (the veins are steel-coloured) flushed pink beneath. Less robust than most hellebores it should be treated as tender.
Frequently we plant hellebores in dull corners as we are told that that they will not thrive in the sun. Many hellebores will grow in sunny positions as along as you can ensure that their roots are cool, and don't dry out and bake. A plant of H foetidus growing in full sun against my shade house never turned a hair. And it had so many babies it should have blushed!
Hellebores are Winter Treasures
Hellebores come into flower by mid-winter in most areas and the flowers last literally for months. Planting these treasures under deciduous trees and shrubs, in any area where they will be seen in winter, bring something extra to the winter garden.
Once you get started with them, you'll find that it's hard to stop looking for ever more interesting species and their hybrids.
The subtle charm of H. foetidus
Hellebores are a promiscuous lot and if you grow different hellebores close together you will find seedlings of mixed parentage. Propagation is easy from seed.
- Collecting Seed
H. orientalis seed forms during the summer, and will germinate by mid-winter.
Collect the seed before it falls, taking care to store it in a cool, dry place.
- Sowing Seed
Sow when ripe, in January or February. Use a good seed raising mix and add additional grit.
Water regularly from below to keep the soil moist. If you drench the pots the seeds will rot before they can germinate. All seeds should germinate before June/July, although H. niger will take longer.
Seedlings will flower after one to two years.
To divide H. orientalis lift the plant and divide into large divisions in late summer just as root growth is beginning to give the plants the optimum time re-establish.
Divisions that are too small may take several years to recover, or, at worst, you may lose them.
Don't chisel 'slips' from the sides of your choicest plants- eventually you will weaken the plant. These 'slips' are the fresh new growth that you are, unwittingly, giving away, being left with the older, weaker growth.
H. niger is best divided in early spring when it starts into growth after the cold of winter.
- Green hellbores
H. foetidus, argutifolius and lividus are less easily divided. These all seed easily and propagation is still possible by this method. Take care that the seed is from plants growing some distance from other species if you don't want hybrid plants
Tough but delicate, Helleborus x hybridus
Hellebores brighten up the winter garden
Helleborus x hybridus