Hellebores at Great Comp Garden

The Galanthophiles aren’t the only plant enthusiasts feeling feverish in the garden at this time of the year, fans of hellebores are in the throws of ecstasy this month as these delightful woodland plants provide something delicate to discover in the dappled sunlight of early spring.

Originating in the Balkans, hellebores (Helleborus) belong to the Ranunculaceae family. They have a relatively long flowering period from December through to the spring.

William Dyson, curator at Great Comp Garden has been growing hellebores in the 7 acre garden in Sevenoaks for 40 years. He says: “The lenten rose types grow almost anywhere that’s damp and well drained with dappled shade. We grow hundreds of them in our woodland area at Great Comp Garden.

The hellebore is actually evergreen; we remove the old leaves from our Hellebores in early December to avoid the spores of black spot from infecting the new growth that emerges in January and February. However, the fact that they are evergreen doesn’t mean that they need pruning and I have several clumps of double flowered hybrids in my own garden that have never been pruned.”

William advises: “Make sure you are wearing gloves before you prune as the sap of the hellebore can irritate the skin. With your gloves on and your secateurs in hand, look out for the new growth and as this appears, snip off last year’s growth at the base of the plant.”

Fans of the hellebore like to encourage their plants to face the sun, by ensuring that their position in the woodland enables enough dappled sunlight and protection from the elements to prevent flower droop!

William says: “I’m often asked why hellebores droop, and it seems that they do this as a defence mechanism against rain, sleet and snow. Helleborus niger (eg. ‘Snowdrift’) faces outwards rather than drooping, so hybridization with this species will produce flowers that don’t droop.”

With lots of varieties to choose from, William Dyson is at pains to underline that it’s worth choosing your hellebores not just for their flowers, but for their foliage too. He says: “The hellebore collection in the central woodland areas at Great Comp has been boosted this year by the addition of Helleborus niger ‘Snowdrift‘ and ‘Pink Ballerina’; an orientalis hybrid that produces multiple fully double soft pink flowers that bloom from January through to March. These plants have really interesting foliage that provide interest in the woodland for the rest of the year.

If you are in the market for hellebores then William advises a trip to Ashwood Nurseries in Kingswinford in the West Midlands. William says: “their plants are incredible – the owner John Massey knows more about hellebores than anyone in the world and has been breeding them for decades. I would recommend seeking out his hybrids and also visiting ‘John’s Garden’ – created by the nursery owner John Massey VMH.”

Great Comp Garden is now open 7 days a week.

Image Credit: Vikki Rimmer