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Brighten up winter’s darkness

Thompson & Morgan hellebores.

Thompson & Morgan hellebores.

Richard Wright

[email protected]

Friday, January 12, 2018 - 15:11

HELLEBORES in all their diversity are very much a winter favourite.
When all around is dank and dire, the hellebore provides much-needed colour to a garden normally illuminated only by berry, foliage or bark of colour.
Thompson & Morgan has just come up with two new and exclusive mixes of hellebores, which have been voted by gardeners the country’s favourite winter-flowering plants.
What makes the hellebore mixes so special is they are both 100 per cent true to type, a feat never achieved before. 
Stock is only available from T&M and is understandably limited, but gardeners can pre-order from the company’s website now for delivery in the spring.
I shall be asking T&M for the hellebores featured in the Anemone Flowered Mix, which appear truly breathtaking with their exquisite central ruff of small petals, pleated like a ballerina’s tutu. 
They look so delicate but, in fact, are incredibly hardy. 
There are six different varieties in the mix, each one with unique colouring and markings.
The Double Flowered Mix is another selection of six hellebore varieties. Each one is uniquely coloured and patterned, and perfect for winter perennial planting schemes.
T&M plant breeder Charles Valin recommends growing them on a gentle slope where they can really show off.
Charles said: “We’re renowned for our hellebore breeding programme at Thompson & Morgan so we have seen some amazing breeding breakthroughs over the years, but these two new mixes are really superb. 
“It’s unheard of for a mix of hellebores to bloom 100 per cent true to type.”
Hellebores are a favourite because in the right location they are pretty bulletproof and flower for the dullest three months of the year in the run-up to spring.
They are a much-needed food source for bees and make wonderful cut or floating flowers when there is little else about in the cutting garden.
Anemone Flowered Mix comprises Aurora, Juno, Ceres, Diana, Discordia and Juventus and is available at www.thompson-morgan.com/anemone-hellebore
Double Flowered Mix has Selene, Athena, Demeter, Artemis, Eris and Hebe.
Both are available at www.thompson-morgan.com/
double-hellebore
Hellebores have a height and spread of up to 40cm (16ins) and prefer to grow in rich, well-drained soil in dappled shade. Avoid planting in very dry or waterlogged soil. 
As basically a woodland plant. they like to be sheltered from strong, cold winds and appreciate being watered during dry spells and mulched as they would be on the woodland carpet. Water during dry spells and mulch annually with leaf mould, chipped bark or other organic matter in autumn.
A general purpose fertiliser or a dressing of slow-release blood, fish and bone in the spring will encourage vigorous growth and flowering the following winter.
A balanced liquid fertiliser, such as seaweed, or with a high potassium content, such as tomato feed, will encourage blooms in container-grown specimens.
A good tip is to remove old leaves in late winter or early spring to ensure the often subtle flowers can be seen clearly as the flower buds appear. It is important for the health of the plant because diseased foliage can harbour the unsightly fungal hellebore leaf spot.
Exposing the flowers in this way will also help insects to pollinate the flowers and ensure good seed set for propagation. Other tips for stinking hellebore (H. foetidus) and H. argutifolius are to cut off flowered stems at ground level. For other hellebores, only spent flowers should be dead-headed.
RHS advice for propagation is large clumps of named cultivars and most species can be increased by division in early spring, although many professional growers prefer to divide Oriental hybrids (Helleborus × hybridus) in September.
For the best results, ensure clumps are split into several pieces of a reasonable size, with at least one growth point, and water well until they are established. 
The new divisions may be slow to establish, due to the lack of fine roots, and flowering may be poor in the following year, but they are likely to settle in given time.
Helleborus foetidus and H. argutifolius are not suitable for division but can be raised by sowing fresh seed early in the year. It may take two to three years before plants reach flowering size.
Recommended cultivars are Helleborus foetidus AGM, Helleborus niger AGM, Helleborus hybridus and Ashwood Garden hybrids.
l For details of Thompson & Morgan’s hellebore breeding programme, go to www.thompson-morgan.com/hellebore-breeding-programme.

 


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