You know a breeder (Hueger) thinks a lot of their introduction when they give it the name ‘Champion’, and we can’t argue with their selection of this fabulous form of the sterile Helleborus x ericsmithii, flowering currently in the JLBG gardens.
It’s nothospecific namesake recognized the late English gardener/plant breeder, Eric Smith, at Buckshaw Gardens. Eric’s enduring claim to fame are the Hosta x tardiana series of blue-foliaged hostas, most notably Hosta ‘Halcyon’. Smith was also a prolific breeder of helleborus and one that he first pioneered in the early 1970s was Helleborus x ericsmithii. This is a group of sterile hybrids of Helleborus niger, lividus, and argutifolius. Each of the three parents have outfacing flowers, so all selections of Helleborus x ericsmithii were given no choice but to face outwards.
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’.
Walking around the garden in mid-winter, we spotted a couple of nice woodies in full flower in addition to the winter blooming perennials. The first is one of many witch hazels we grow…in this case, Hamamelis ‘Orange Peel’.
Growing nearby is Distylium buxifolium, also in full flower. D. buxifolium is a cousin to the better known D. myricoides. As best we can determine, it was not in cultivation in the US until a recent wild seed collection by Scott McMahan of the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Our plant is 3 years old from seed and measures 3′ tall x 10′ wide.
Cyclamen hederifolium is a great addition to the winter garden. They begin flowering in late fall/early winter before the foliage. When foliage emerges it will remain during the winter. The foliage is quite dramatic with intricate patterning of silver and shades of green. Most hardy cyclamen are grown from seed, so like snowflakes, no two are alike.
Here are some of the cyclamen growing in our crevice garden. Notice the variation in variegation, leaf shape, and differences in flower color.
We now have so many aspidistra (cast iron plants), that there is at least one species flowering virtually every month of the year. Winter still has the most flowering species, and here are a few that are currently blooming in our collection. Most folks don’t see the flowers because they either don’t know to look or plant their plants too deep, so the flowers form underground. We like to snip off some of the oldest leaves for a better floral show.
Aspidistra fungilliformis ‘China Star’ is a Chinese collection from Jim Waddick
Aspidistra tonkinensis is a Dylan Hannon collection from Vietnam…not enough to share yet, but soon.
Aspidistra sp. nov. is an Alan Galloway collection from Vietnam. We thought this was Aspidistra lutea, but we now think it may be a new undescribed species. This one offsets slow, so it may be a couple of years before we can share…hopefully by then we can get this named.
Aspidistra vietnamensis…a Japanese selection. Most of the plants in the trade in the deep south which go by a variety of species names are actually this newly described species. We’ve had plants like Aspidistra ‘Ginga’ keyed out previously by the world’s authorities as either Aspidistra elatior or Aspidistra sichuanensis, but to us, they never quite fit into those species. Now that Aspidistra vietnamensis has been published, we finally have a match.
So, how do we figure this out? Our staff taxonomist, Zac Hill has become an expert on aspidistra by dissecting the flowers. Yes, leaves, growth habit, and rhizome are important, but it’s all about the flowers. The first image below shows the anthers inside the flower, and the bottom photo shows the stigma. Minor differences in the shapes and orientation are used to distinguish one species from another. We have other collaborators in the UK, France, Germany, and Russia with whom we share images and identification thoughts.
There are several of us that travel around the world to find these new species, and then work to get them into cultivation for the purpose of ex-situ conservation. We hope you’ll try some of our amazing offerings.