Sunday, February 20, 2011

Helluva lot of Hellebore, and I like it.

Hellebores (Helleborus) have been mentioned in writing as early as the fifth century1. It was thought to have been used in chemical warfare during the First Sacred War. Chemical warfare you ask? That’s right, every part of the lovely hellebore is poisonous. Its beauty and intrigue heavily outweighs this potential negative.

Helleborus x hybridus 'Royal Heritage Strain' from Wayside Gardens
In 2005, hellebores won the status of Perennial Plant of the Year by the Perennial Plant Association (PPA). It did not move terribly quickly on the market. In catalogues you would sometimes see one or two available. In the October 2008 issue of American Nurseryman, Allen Bush recommended the hellebore as one of the ten durable plants for the ages. This is a title for plants that I can appreciate. Even then, Bush mentioned that this plant remained underused, and was, "still something of a sleeper" in the home garden.

There has been serious breeding and production done resulting in great new hellebores. The colors and combination are now endless. The number of plants being sold before in catalogues ranged from zero to just a few. This has now increased significantly. On the grower end, companies like Jelitto Perennial Seeds, where Bush works now, offer 30 different varieties to nurseries. Great Garden Plants has 11 different varieties available to consumers.

This February Allen Bush, of Jelitto Perennial Seeds was one of six speakers at a joint PPA and Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA) conference2. This conference set out to show new introductions, as well as more durable plants, and in general plants that made all of the presenters excited plantsmen. We were introduced to a plethora of new and exciting plants. Wouldn’t you know, hellebores were all over these lists?

What’s changed over time? A little breeding has happened for the leaves, but most of the change comes in the flowers. Originally hellebore flowers predominantly faced downward. This is not as showy. So they have been bred to have the flowers face outward and even upward. Chris Hansen, of Great Garden Plants, mentioned an anomaly about upward facing flowers being more susceptible to mildew, but giving a great show if they haven’t been hit.

I’ve had hellebores in my yard for 5 years, and have loved them. I’m excited that this group of plants has made it to market in a big way. I’m more excited to see what plants make it through my door. It’s been said, more than once, that we don’t have any more space for plants in my yard. We still have turf…we still have space.
  1. First Sacred War. Wikipedia. 2011,
  2. Passion and Pursuit, Perennial Plant Association and Indianapolis Museum of Art. Feb. 2011.

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