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Hellebores Unveiled: History, Beauty, and the Best-of Collection at Amsterdam Garden Centre

Despite their common names – Christmas Rose, Lenten Rose, and winter rose – Hellebores are not closely related to roses but are found in the Ranunculaceae family along with clematis and delphiniums. These popular perennials can be either herbaceous or evergreen, with most modern hybrids being derived from a handful of species native to southern Europe, including Spain, Italy, Croatia, Bulgaria, France, and Greece. They have a long history of cultivation and were used as medicinal plants by both the ancient Greeks and Romans, continuing right up to the Middle Ages.

Hellebore - Royal Heritage Strain

(Hellebore - Royal Heritage Strain)

Aesthetic interest in hellebores probably began with the famous English garden designer Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932), who planted them extensively in her Munstead Wood landscape. The modern Helleborus trends were instigated by the introduction of the ‘Royal Heritage Strain’, which was derived from seeds collected and bred by plantswoman Helen Ballard from the 1960s through to the 80s. German horticulturist Gisela Schmiemann took this further by creating the Lady Series, seed strains that came true 80% of the time, including the very popular ‘Blue Lady’. Then came the 1990’s and the introduction of double-flowered hellebores, many of which carried a very hefty price tag ($50 for a 1-gallon plant) in those early days.

Hellebore 'Blue Lady'

(Hellebore 'Blue Lady)

Thankfully, prices have settled down somewhat and we now have a plethora of reliable hybrids and strains to choose from. Take the Rodney Davey Marbled Group (Helleborus x iburgensis) which includes the very popular ‘Anna’s Red’, a cultivar that took about twelve years to develop. Other members of this notable family include ‘Penny’s Pink’, ‘Molly’s White’, ‘Dana’s Dulcet’ and the newer ‘Illumi Lime’, which features eye-catching kiwi-green flowers. All of these varieties feature large, outward-facing blooms and marbled evergreen foliage that continues to impress long after the flowers have faded. 

(📸 Dana's Dulcet: Pacific Plug & Liner)

Double-flowered hybrids that have stood the test of time are best represented by those from Terra Nova’s Winter Jewels strain, which were bred by Marietta O’Byrne of Eugene, Oregon. These include the elegant ‘Golden Lotus’ (clear yellow with burgundy-red accents) and ‘Rose Quartz’ (white with a rose-pink picotee), both of which have proved themselves for more than a decade now. 

(📸 Terra Nova Nurseries Inc.)

Even the single-flowered forms have vastly improved as evidenced by the HONEYMOON series, a sample of which would be ‘Romantic Getaway’ (pure white with heavy maroon-red spotting), ‘New York Night’ (the deepest burgundy-black, sharply contrasted by yellow stamens) and the exotic ‘Tropical Sunset’ (clear yellow with burgundy-red picotee and veining). 

(📸 Walters Gardens Inc.)

Newer generation double hybrids can be found in the WEDDING PARTY series, bred by Hans Hansen for vigor and rich flower colours. There are a lot to choose from here, but a few of my favourites include ‘Wedding Bells’ (pure white), ‘True Love’ (rich maroon with a darker burgundy picotee), ‘First Dance’ (clear yellow with a thin maroon picotee), ‘Shotgun Wedding’ (white with heavy burgundy speckling) and ‘Black Tie Affair’ (cream with dark currant edging). 

(📸 Walters Gardens Inc.)

Lastly, I’d like to mention ‘Honeyhill Joy’ for those gardeners who seem to have a hard time growing hellebores. This tough niger x corsicus cross has virtually weather-proof bluish-green foliage and showy white flowers that fade to apple green from December through to March. It is actually used extensively in commercial landscapes due to its durability.

Hellebore 'Honeyhill Joy'

(Hellebore 'Honeyhill Joy')

Thankfully, we have taken the time to put together a "best-of" hellebore collection so that you can shop at Amsterdam Garden Centre from the comfort of home and pick-up your favourite variety as soon as they arrive at the nursery. Click here to begin your virtual shopping experience.

Copyright 2023 MK Lascelle

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