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Posts Tagged ‘Long blooming plants’

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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Anyone who has a interest in plants will have heard of Linnaeus or at least experienced his worked when looking up a plant name. Carl Linnaeus(1707-1778) was the incredible man who developed the system which we use for naming plants and animals. Linnaeus brought order to already Latin named plants and animals by created a system to classify them by their  physical characteristics. He simplified plant names by giving them 2 parts (binomial), the genus and then the species. Often plants where and still are named from where they come from. One of the 9000 plants Linnaeus named is Verbena bonariensis or Purpletop Vervain or Brazilian Vervain). ‘Bonariensis’ refers to Buenos Aries, Argentina where the original plant sample is likely to have come from.

Verbena bonariensis has clusters of tiny mauve flowers held high above it's foliage.

Verbena bonariensis has clusters of tiny mauve flowers held high above it's foliage.

I first saw this plant at  Park and Tilford Gardens where I worked over the summer in a practicum. It was a nice change from the other Verbenas that I saw and was not too crazy about as they seemed to always get unsightly mildew.  Most Verbenas which we see are annuals and are used in our hanging baskets or bedding out.Verbena bonariensis is well named as Purpletop Vervain as it’s airy stems of flowers are almost like wands of color which is part of it’s charm.

Purpletop Vervain along a path at Glendale Gardens.

Purpletop Vervain along a path at Glendale Gardens.

Verbena bonariensis is a particularly useful plant as it’s flower stems are airy and can weave through other plants easily. It will pop through other plants easily and create wonderful combinations or fill awkward spaces with graceful color in late summer. It is the weaving quality of this plant which makes it a much used plant by gardeners who have just the right situation for it’s use.

This  mauve Verbena bonariensis weaves it's way through a white Agapanthus.

This mauve Verbena bonariensis weaves it's way through a white Agapanthus.

Purpletop Verbena is found growing in Southern Brazil, Argentina and through Uruguay and Paraguay.  It is rated at zone 7-10(-17.7 °C (0 °F)), therefore is often treated as a annual in colder areas. If it likes it’s place it will happily self-seed which in some places can be nuisance. Here we have the occasional cold winter so seeding is never a real problem. Seedlings are easily recognized and removed.  It seems that plants which originate from seed grown plants and not by way of cuttings are said to be more tough.

Verbena bonariensis growing amoung the rocks in the Terrace Garden at Government House.

Verbena bonariensis growing amoung the rocks in the Terrace Garden at Government House.

All Verbenas prefer full sun and good air circulation to prevent  powdery mildew. Purpletop Vervain tolerates most types of soil as long as it is well drained, this will ensure your plant has a longer life. It is advisable to pinch plants back when they are young to produce a bushier plant with more floral stems later int the year. Verbena bonariensis grows 40cm-1.2m(2-5ft) tall and takes a space between 30-60cm(1-2ft) in width.

The bright Purpletop Vervain flowers contrast well with the silvery tones of these plants.

The bright Purpletop Vervain flowers contrast well with the silvery tones of these plants.

Purpletop Vervain is a very useful plant in other ways as well. It is said to be one of the very best butterfly attracting plants and many people can attest to it.  It is often used as a cottage garden plant and is best placed mid border for this use. I have seen it used well in borders of mixed perennials and shrubs. the can be interesting combinations created with variegated and colored foliage of  other plants. Wherever you use it, Verbena bonariensis will add something interesting and people will ask you what plant it is. I know many people have asked me and are always surprised when I tell them this is the more stately cousin to the annual Verbenas in their garden….and they always want to get some!

The tiny long blooming flowers of Verbena bonariensis bloom from June through September here.

The tiny long blooming flowers of Verbena bonariensis bloom from June through September here.

Learn more about Verbena bonariensis:

Who is Carl Linnaeus and why he is so important to science: http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nature-online/science-of-natural-history/biographies/linnaeus/index.html

Wiki page on Purpletop Vervain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Verbena_bonariensis

Other gardeners experiences with Verbena bonariensis: http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/141/

Until We Meet Again Soon.

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