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Posts Tagged ‘Hellebores’

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 brings together the best genes of 3 species into a spectacular plant.

Helleborus x ericsmithii brings together the best genes of 3 species into a spectacular plant.


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).
 Here we have Helleborus niger on the left, H. argutifolius on the lower right with H.lividus leaves in the background.

Here we have Helleborus niger on the left, H. argutifolius on the lower right with H.lividus leaves in the background.


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.
 A fine combination of plants found at Government House with Helleborus x ericsmithii being the star in earliest spring.

A fine combination of plants found at Government House with Helleborus x ericsmithii being the star in earliest spring.


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.
 The pink and green shades blend together with the cream into a tapestry of tones in Helleborus x ericsmithii.

The pink and green shades blend together with the cream into a tapestry of tones in Helleborus x ericsmithii.


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.
 This recently planted Helleborus x ericsmithii and will with time grow to be a formidable plant with countless blossoms.

This recently planted Helleborus x ericsmithii and will with time grow to be a formidable plant with countless blossoms.


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.
 Several Helleborus x  ericsmithii plants make an excellent container planting for winter color.

Several Helleborus x ericsmithii plants make an excellent container planting for winter color.


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.
 These aged gflowers of Helleborus x ericsmithii will soon be finished as they are sterile and do not set viable seed.

These aged flowers of Helleborus x ericsmithii will soon be finished as they are sterile and do not set viable seed.


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…..

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One place I like to on a regular basis is Government House in Victoria. Yes it really is related to the Government, as the Lieutenant Governor of B.C. lives there. The nice thing for gardeners and plant fanatics is that it has extensively planted beds that hold a vast collection of plants. I nipped into to town to see what was coming up in the beds and what looked the best. I always take the same route through the garden when I leave my car. First the path through the towering Camellias which meanders down to the Fountain Pond which was frozen, the ducks looked somewhat out of place walking on the ice. The pond leads to the long Rockland Border that is full of perennials and shrubs.

Government House Driveway

Government House Driveway

This is where I was coming to check out a favorite planting scheme and the star plant of this week: Helleborus argutifolius or Corsican Hellebore.

Favorite Plant combination Along Rockland Border.

Favorite Plant combination Along Rockland Border.

I have been lucky to had a grown this plant for a number of years and was not crazy about it at first. I didn’t appreciate the subtle pale apple green shading of the flowers or the dark green coarsely textured and toothed leaves.The flowers may not be that big but are make up for it by being in clusters and they turn up as they age. The foliage is almost indestructible and looks attractive all year.

The WOW Effect.

The WOW Effect.

That wasn’t until I saw some perfectly grown plants in full sun that I said “WOW” to myself.

The problem is most of the time these plants are treated like other Hellebores and people assume they need to be in a shaded location. They need sun to be their best.This should not come as a shock when you consider that they are called Corsican Hellebores, named after one of the two (Sardinia is the other) islands they are native to. These islands are located in the Mediterranean Sea about 28 miles off the Italian coast. The climate of the islands is hot and dry in the summers with an average of 11 hours of sun during the day, and mild in the winter with a glorious 7 hours of sun time. Temperatures never get near the freezing (0C or 32F) mark even in the coldest weather.  Corsican Hellebores are somewhat tender and are rated at zone 7 to 9 (-10C being the lowest temperature tolerated).

Flowers Opening on January 5, 2009

Flowers Opening on January 5, 2009

To grow their best these plants need full sun here in Victoria as well as sufficient moisture in our annual summer droughts. Any rich soil will do, even that which is a little alkaline does not seem to bother it. The one thing they don’t like is the combination of cold and damp which is what the winters are here, so careful placement is important if one wants a long lived plant. Fortunately if Corsiican Hellebores are fairly happy they will self sow and regenerate on the same spot or close to it. Be careful where you place them.Being that they are from the Ranunculus family, you know they will hate to have their roots disturbed in any way.

In Their Glory, Late January 2007.

In Their Glory, Late January 2007.

And the last question, Why call them the “giants of the hellebores”? This is becuase the grow up to 6ft (180cm) heigh in their antureal habitat. Don’t worry that is not likely, the pictured examples are in the comfortable range of 2-3ft (60-90cm) so easily blend into the garden, preferably near the middle or the back.

Some Useful Links:

all you ever need to know about Corsican Hellebores is here:

http://www.grahamrice.com/hellebore/species/argutifolius/index.html

The islands of Corsica and Sardinia:

http://www.usd.edu/~clehmann/pir/SardCorsica/geography.htm

Government House, Victoria, British Columbia. Canada:

http://www.ltgov.bc.ca/gardens/individual-gardens.htm

I bid you adieu until next week.

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