We’ve made several hellebore posts, which are hard not to do, since they put on such a great winter show in the shade garden. Here are some of our selections of the fertile Helleborus x hybridus from the garden this week. If you made it to our winter open house, you were able to see these in person. If not, this is the best we can do until next winter, when we hope you’ll add us to your travel calendar.
Helleborus x hybridus is a mixed group from a wide range of parents including Helleborus orientalis, viridis, atrorubens, purpurescens, torquatus, and probably others. The flower color of each seedling varies based on what other colored hellebore is growing nearby in combination with the genes of it’s past lineages. In the wild, most flowers from the hellebore species listed above are pendulous, since upright or outright flowers often doesn’t bode well for successful fruit set in snowy winter climates. Through the years, breeders have made incredible progress raising the faces of the flowers, and in other cases simply colorizing the petal exterior on drooping forms. We salute the amazing hellebore breeders who keep pushing the limits of what we thought possible.
One of our most popular introductions is Edgeworthia ‘Snow Cream’…a plant we first selected back in 1995…long before more than a handful of gardeners had even heard of the Chinese native genus.
The late JC Raulston grew a plant, known then as Edgeworthia papyrifera, just outside of the arboretum lath house back in the early 1990s, when I was Curator of the Shade House. It was a fascinating plant that I remember watching each winter as the tight white buds burst into yellow flowers. There was little detectable floral fragrance, the plant never exceeded 3.5′ in height, and it suffered mightily in cold NC winters. I was still entranced by the plant and propagated several and planted them around the NC State Fairgrounds, where I worked full time.
An interesting back story is that a population of Edgeworthia papyrifera was discovered along Wolf Creek in Rabun County, Georgia back in 1971. Author Wilbur Duncan and other native plant researchers were shocked and puzzled to find this new plant growing in the wild until it was later determined to be escapees, probably circuitously from an earlier 1903 introduction by the USDA..
In June 1995, I was visiting plantsman Roger Gossler at his family nursery, Gossler Farms, in Oregon. Roger had just received a shipment of edgeworthia from Piroche Plants in Canada. Since I had tried in vain to track down Edgeworthia chrysantha, I was thrilled at my luck in finally finding it. Going through their batch of seed-grown plants, I chose one that had the largest foliage and best form, which we eventually named E. ‘Snow Cream’.
For those who don’t know the Piroche Plants story, let me share. Back in the early 1990s, Canadian nurseryman/plantsman, Pierre Piroche was able to do what no one else had been able to manage and import quite a large number of very rare, commercially unobtainable plants, both woody and perennial from China. The story goes that Piroche first established a nursery in Bhutan that was able to import plants directly from China and then ship them on to Canada. Keen plant collectors around the country scooped up these gems until the Chinese import program sadly ended a couple of years later. Without his work, who knows if and when these superb forms of Edgeworthia chrysantha would have reached the US. A plantsman’s salute is in order for Pierre Piroche.
Edgeworthia taxonomy continues to be a moving target. The long known name Edgeworthia papyrifera was shot down when DNA studies showed that it was simply the diploid form of the triploid, and earlier published Edgeworthia chrysantha. Later, researchers dug up the yet earlier published name, Edgeworthia tomentosa (formerly Magnolia tomentosa)…a name which other researchers noted, is invalid since it was not correctly published.
Some folks have tried the orange flowered edgeworthia (‘Akebono’) that shows up in the market from time to time. Sadly, it’s the non-fragrant diploid form that has very little winter hardiness. We gave up on this in the mid-1990s after killing it our prerequisite three times. I am excited to share that a new orange-flowered form of the hardy fragrant form is finally poised to hit the market in the next few years.
Below are a few shots of Edgeworthia ‘Snow Cream’ at JLBG this week in it’s full blaze of glory. The daphne-like fragrance is akin to walking by a department store fragrance counter. Because of our consistently cool winter, flowering this year is about 2-3 weeks behind normal. We have found that edgeworthia grows equally as well in light shade or part sun…as long as the soil is well drained. Mature size seems to be in the 7-8′ range. To quote the late Paul Harvery…”Now you know the rest of the story.”
After showing many of the hybrid hellebores, here’s where they started. Flowering now at JLBG is one of our Balkan collections of the stunning Helleborus multifidus ssp. hercegovinus, which we grow for the foliage. This clump was started from a single division of a special plant we found in Montenegro…just after we crossed the border from Bosnia. The small green flowers are typical for the species. This is a slow-growing, summer-dormant species, which is why your rarely see it offered. If these are growin from garden seed, you get all kinds of hybrids, but almost never any with the stunning foliage of the true species.
If you’ve never read any of our plant expedition logs, here is a link to our Balkan travels where this gem was found.
In case you missed visiting us at our Winter Open Nursery and Garden, our spring event is coming soon…the first two weekends in May. Here are a few images of the garden in winter that you missed by not visiting!