It’s a bit of a trek but if you like Hellebores (also called Christmas or Lentern Roses) there’s only one place to go if you want to see some stunning colours and varieties. That’s Ashwood Nurseries at Kingswinford, where owner John Massey has been breeding Hellebores for 50 years. Having been on one of his Hellebore tours in the past and heard how hit and miss germination is and how long it takes to get seedlings that hold a true colour, this really is a labour of love. Ashwood nurseries is a good garden centre and cafe its own right and also sells rare and unusual Hepaticas, another of John’s passions. On March 18th 2017 John’s garden, adjacent to the nurseries, is also open for charity – for details see www.
Hellebores are great for bringing early colour into shady spots in the garden and like rich, moist, slightly alkaline soil, so are perfect for our local conditions, although they don’t like to be waterlogged so they need a spot with good drainage too. They come in a wide range of colours from pure white though to pink and dark purple and even yellows and apricots. If you’ve never grown them before, the amount of choice can be daunting, but a beautiful and robust variety is Helleborus niger “Pink Ice”. They’re easy to look after, just feed them in early spring with either seaweed or blood, fish and bone fertiliser, remove any dead or damaged leaves in December before they flower and again after flowering (removing spent flower stems at the same time unless you want them to seed). Hellebores are prone to fungal infection, so make sure you take off any leaves with brown or black spots as soon as you see them and spray with a systemic fungicide once flowering is over.They make great companions to spring bulbs especially blue scillas, crocus or grape hyacinths, or the lovely gentian blue coloured Pulmonaria “Blue Ensign”. Hellebores aren’t cheap to buy, but they are a reliable perennial that should give you early colour for years to come and as they are promiscuous cross breeders you may soon get your very own hybrids arising.