Helleborus x ballardiae – Helen’s legacy

The late English gardener, Helen Ballard, carried the title, Queen of the Hellebores from the 1960s until her death in the mid-1990s. Although she worked primarily with Helleborus x hybridus, she also was one of the first people to cross Helleborus niger with Helleborus lividus. Those crosses, formerly known as Helleborus x nigerliv, now officially bear Helen’s name as Helleborus x ballardiae. These mostly sterile hybrids with outfacing flowers are well represented in commerce with several amazing selections. A couple of our favorites that are looking exceptional in the garden now are Helleborus ‘Merlin’ and ‘Camelot’.

Helleborus x ballardiae ‘Camelot’
Helleborus x ballardiae ‘Merlin’

In Camelot…

Truly magical, the aptly named Helleborus x ballardiae ‘Camelot’ in flower now at JLBG. This is yet another of the wonderful new sterile hybrids. Visit us during our 2021 Winter Open Nursery & Garden Days, Feb. 26-28 & March 5-7, 2021, and discover all the wonders of the winter garden.

Goldfeather

We can’t imagine gardening in a climate where we couldn’t grow these amazing bold-textured evergreen winter wonders. Here is Aspidistra ‘Goldfeather’ in the garden this week, glowing in the winter light. For those in colder winter climates, the common name of cast iron plants give an indication of how tough they are as house plants in low light conditions.

Aspidistra elatior ‘Goldfeather’

Cast Iron Tough

We highly value our cast iron plants (aspidistra) in the winter garden. When we started collecting them in 1980, there were only 20 known species. Today, there are over 200 species known to science. Here are a few in the garden this winter.

These are just a few of the 139 different cast iron plant clones we grow. We hope you’ll come see them in person during our upcoming winter open nursery and garden.

Gardening for winter

Here are a couple of images of the gardens at JLBG to show how we garden for the winter months. By selecting and designing your garden for the winter season, it will automatically look great during the other three seasons.

Plants featured include hellebores, rohdea, ophiopogon (mondo grass), sabal palm, Illicium ‘Florida Sunshine’, and a number of conifers.
Here’s one of our woodland streams featuring Aucuba ‘Limbata’, carex, and rohdea. With proper plant selection, the garden in winter doesn’t have to be a lifeless canvas of mulch.

The Strangest Flowers You Rarely See

Plant Delights Nursery and JLBG focuses on preserving genetic germplasm through ex-situ conservation and assembling complete collections of specific plant groups. This aides in conducting scientific and taxonomic research to clarify mis-information and nomenclature issues in the industry.

One of these specialty collections is Aspidistra, also known as cast iron plant. JLBG’s collection currently contains 32 species, 109 unique clones and 12 unidentified species.

Aspidistra is a group of evergreen woodland perennials typically grown for their foliage and unique variegation. Many people never notice their flowers, which are borne at ground level, below the foliage. Here are some flower images from the garden this week.

Falling for selaginella

We have long loved the amazing selaginellas, but in the fall and winter, the evergreen native Selaginella apoda looks absolutely fabulous. Here it is in the garden, 1st image is in November, 2nd image February, carpeting the ground with a touch-worthy texture.  It’s only been known since 1753…surely you’ve managed to grow one by now!

 

If you’re looking for something taller, the Chinese Selaginella braunii also looks great in the fall and tops out around 1′ tall.

A few years ago, we were browsing in one of the box stores, and spotted this variegated Selaginella braunii, which came home with us. So far, we haven’t been able to get the variegation to be stable enough to offer. 

Join the flocks and bedazzled.

Here are a couple of favorites from our trials that will be included in our new catalog to be launched January 1. These are the Bedazzled series of Phlox, created by plantsman Hans Hansen, using our native Phlox bifida. Last year, these started flowering for us in late January and continued into April. In the ground, our clumps are only 4″ tall and 2′ wide. These are much more dense that typical Phlox bifida, and much more compact than Phlox subulata. Even before flowering, the evergreen foliage is pristine all winter. The first is ‘Bedazzled Lavender’ and the second is ‘Bedazzled Pink’. 

Cast Iron Tough

Now that winter is giving us a sneak preview of what’s in store for the next few months,  the evergreen plants in the garden are really starting to shine without all those pesky deciduous perennials. Aspidistra, or cast iron plants, are one of our favorites, and they really look so good in the garden now. Many folks in more northern climates are relegated to container culture, but for those of us in Zone 7b and south, they are amazing perennials. 

Aspidistra ebianensis ‘Flowing Fountains’ should be in all shade gardens where the climate allows. He’s our nine year old clump this month, now 2′ tall x 6′ wide.

Aspidistra retusa ‘Nanjing Green’ is a smaller clump with a different form.

And here is a photo of Aspidistra elatior ‘Asahi’ from the garden last week. 

We’ve also grown quite a few aspidistra from seed to see what kind of new forms might arise. Below are some photos of some of our 2 year old offspring. Like hostas, variegation in aspidistra arises from streaking in the L2 layer (center of the leaf).

What fun!