By James Wall
My house has a northern garden. There is quite a bit of shade, but the midday sun still filters through in summer, and the northern winter sun also pokes through. It seemed like the perfect position for a few hellebores – long living winter flowering perennials of beauty.
The plants like a cold winter, are frost hardy and will do well in Melbourne gardens. If however you have sandy soil, add plenty of organic matter to improve the structure of the soil. You could grow them in pots, but the rhizome forms an extensive root system after a couple of seasons so they would be better suited in the ground.
Hellebore are closesly related to delphiniums and ranunculus, two of my favourite flowers but which prefer sunnier positions. But the shadier areas are where the hellebore shines, and it often works in that difficult situation like under a tree. In fact they would be perfect under a decidous tree – protected from the hot summer sun, but open in the winter.
In late autumn, new shoots will appear from beneath the ground. For many varieties, you should then remove the old foliage. This is also a good time to feed the plants with a balanced fertiliser and help them through this growing period. As winter drifts away, you will be rewarded with magical medium sized round flowers that really lift the garden at this time of year.
We currently stock a range called Winter Elegance (trademarked name) which have been developed from one of Australia’s finest specialist collections.The breeders have rigorously selected the best stock plants and painstakingly hand pollinated to achieve more certain results. The result is a collection of quality strains of strong plants in amazing colours, and some with double flowers. This range sells out every year and is only available in limited numbers. Their main flowering period is June to September and they eventually grow to about 45cm wide and high.
Another awesome hellebore is the Ivory Prince. These plants are produced from tissue culture, so there is even less variation in quality. The flower colour is both classy, but unique in that they start off ivory white, and fade to a musky pink, and finally are brushed with a taint of green. They come from the renowned UK breeder David Tristram whose has selected a strain with lots of flower power and heads that sit up nicely, with very little droop. Six spikes with up to twelve flowers each is not uncommon. We will have good numbers of these plants for the next few months.
These strong plants could even take a sunnier position, but I would still mulch them well in summer, and give them some deep waterings. In winter, hellebores can survive with little watering.
So there you have it. A little bit of undergrowth with a really pretty flower, and a plant that you can get quite addicted to growing.