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Heavenly Hellebores – a true winter or early spring flowerer with fragrant flowers, evergreen and providing early nectar for insects surely must be a plant for every garden. Tolerant of shade and our Sussex chalk, what's not to like?
Since the early nineteenth century, German breeders and growers have been hybridising and crossing Hellebores. This continued into the twentieth century with many celebrated English growers, so there are plenty of varieties for every taste.
A local connection is the lovely Helleborus x sternii ‘Silver Dollar'. H. sternii was named in honour of botanist and horticulturist Sir Frederick Stern, from Highdown, near Worthing. It has the blue veined leaves of the Corsican Hellebore and burgundy stalks and flowers of the tender Majorcan Hellebore. The silvered foliage alone is very striking.
H. x ericsmithii variety ‘Wintermoonbeam' is a fairly recent introduction – the mottled foliage is good and is the large spray of white flowers turn a deep red when they mature. If you prefer your flowers a bit more blousy, then you won't want to miss H. ‘Double Ellen Picotee'. Its delightful, large, creamy-white frilly double flowers have exquisite pink margins.
Our native Hellebore, H. foetidus or the Stinking Hellebore might not sound attractive (it gets the name from the aroma it gives off when the leaves are crushed). The variety ‘Vogezen', comes from Vosges in France – it gives a great stand of lush foliage and a profuse mass of lime green flowers, held aloft – a burst of spring joy.
Grow them in a pot or in a woodland setting, but remember they don't like to dry out. Moist but well drained is best. The Roman commentator, Pliny said that if you dig one up, you should draw a circle round the plant and offer up a prayer – certainly this advice is partly relevant, as they do resent being moved.
Plant Manager, Tates of Sussex