Although it has been unusually cool and wet already this winter it is surprising how much is going on in the garden right now. Already the buds on many shrubs are stirring and growing larger and I have seen germinated seedlings with their first leaves emerging from places. The earliest blooming plants are starting to show up. One group of plants which never let us down are Hellebores and several species and hybrids are blooming or are in bud. One of the more interesting and fairly new to this area are the Helleborus x ericsmithii group. This plant selection was formerly known as Helleborus x nigerstern.
Helleborus x ericsmithii is named after the important plantsman and propagator Eric Smith (1917-1986) who was the first person to successfully cross Helleborus niger( the Christmas Rose) with Helleborus x sternii ((H.argutifolius x lividus).
Eric Smith grew up in South Hampshire England, he came from a middle class family. In 1940 he joined the army and was stationed for part of his time in Italy. After the war he was educated as an architect and worked as an assistant for several year. He always had a love for plant and joined the famous nursery Hilliers in Winchester from 1961 to 1965. While at Hilliers he worked as a propagator and first made the cross which lead to the group of plants we know as Helleborus x ericsmithii today. Later in the 1960s he would leave Hilliers and continue developing many other plants which are now associated with him. These plants would include many Hostas, Bergenias, Anemones and Kniphofias.
Each of the 3 species of Hellebore brought something important to the new Helleborus x ericsmithii. Helleborus niger brought the largest flowers. Helleborus argutifolius brought much-needed tolerance for the cold, green shades to the flower color range and toughness to the leaves. Helleborus lividus brought pink tones to the flower coloring and improvement in the leaves with wonderful silver veins which new varieties are showing off more than the past.
Helleborus x ericsmithii brings us a long blooming season which usually begins here in early January and lasts through March. As the flowers are somewhat papery they generally can stand up well to the wet weather. The only thing one sees is soil which may splash up on the lower flowers. The leaves may sometimes become damaged when we have a particularly early frost such as the one we had in November of last year. Have no fear new leaves will appear to replace any of the damaged ones.
Helleborus x ericsmithii is an easily grown plant and can be used in many ways as long as you fulfill its basic needs. This is a plant which likes rich deep soil that is well-drained, it does not like to have overly wet roots as this can lead to rot. In the area I live in the Pacific north-west this plant does best in about half day sun, dappled situations are the best. In hotter and drier climates it will need more shade and more frequent watering. Another thing to keep in mind is all Hellebores hate having their roots disturbed and sulk or sometimes die, therefore, carefully choose where you are going to place them and try not to move it. Always remove spent leaves and flowers to keep the area clean.
Helleborus x ericsmithii are used in many ways, in containers, as winter color and in the winter garden, as a specimen or accent or a border. These plants grow 20-25cm. (8-10 in.) height and grow into a clump up to 30-40cm (12-15in) wide making it an excellent addition to the rock or alpine garden. These plants are hardy to about -15 c.(5 f.) or a little colder with protection.These plants have few pests other than Aphids which may appear when the flowers are young and tender. These Hellebores are said to be deer and rabbit resistant.
Propagation of Helleborus x ericsmithii is done by tissue culture or you can carefully divide your plant after is has finished blooming. Be careful when dividing the plants and do not damage the roots. Look at your nearby nursery or garden centre for many newer varieties which have a broader range of flower colors and variegation in the leaves. Many of the new plants are spectacular and can be hard to track down.
Hunting for this Hellebore:
The book about Hellebore is a wealth of information: http://grahamrice.com/hellebore/species/ericsmithii/index.html
One of the more commonly found forms you can find at your garden centre: http://www.perennials.com/seeplant.html?item=1.256.760
Information on Eric Smith is hard to find: http://books.google.ca/books?id=6idvRAeex8IC&pg=PA165&lpg=PA165&dq=propagator+eric+smith+hellebores&source=bl&ots=XKUbK-HBxl&sig=O0cSVUj4SqZxf08pAkCNmWnjT6A&hl=en&ei=NU8zTdyyM5TmsQPkwOmtBQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=8&ved=0CEMQ6AEwBzgK#v=onepage&q=propagator%20eric%20smith%20hellebores&f=false
……Until we meet again in the sun or showers…..