Graham’s Lenten Rose challenge

Coinciding with Lent and the build up to Easter celebrations, Graham Strong and his wife Sally have been rummaging through the masses of Lenten roses that they have planted in their garden hoping to find that they have a new, highly prized hybrid that they can dig up and divide and maybe share with friends and family.

The flowers, which appear from February to April, in their natural form are cream coloured and sometimes spotted

Hellebores are rather promiscuous plants and self seed freely, it’s possible that when you plant en masse you will find flowers appearing in colours that range from mauve, to purple, lavender and light green, medium green, pale pink and pure white.

The petals of the flowers will vary too and if you’re lucky you’ll find some that are beautifully speckled inside with maroon. Graham and Sally’s aim is to find a plant with outward-facing, saucer-shaped flowers that you can look right into and see their equisite markings rather than have to lift up their typical sulking or nodding flowerheads to reveal their true beauty. They would also like to discover a more exciting colour than purple, which seems to dominate their collection!

Perfect partners for the spring container are Lenten roses with Skimmia Rubella and Pulmonaria saccharata

When growing Lenten roses in containers consider raising them on a pedestal so you can properly see inside the coy flowers, which have the annoying habit of nodding their heads forward. Combine the rose-coloured shades with scented pink hyacinths and polyanthus with an edging of ivy or choose a white variety to go with pale primroses, crocus and variegated ivy.

It’s usually necessary to lift the nodding blooms of Lenten rose, Helleborus x hybridus to reveal the spotted blooms

Like many enthusiasts, Graham and Sally enjoy growing Helleborus orientalis from seeds as the hybrids produced are often some of the family’s most striking flowers and highly collectable. Specialist nurseries such as Ashwood Nurseries ( in the West Midlands offer some of the best. They label their plants Helleborus x hybridus and usually select the parents for breeding for key attributes that they hope will appear in the offspring plants, which can then be reproduced identically by vegetative propagation.

Lenten rose, Helleborus x hybridus Ashwood Garden Hybrids, white picotee form in flower and bud

As well as their famous Ashwood Garden Hybrids they now have a stunning new colour breakthrough, known as the Ashwood Evolution Group of hybrids, which are prized for their long lasting vibrant tones and superb colour on the backs of the blooms. Buying hellebores whilst they’re in flower is the only way to guarantee blooms with the showiest freckling, or cool veining.

To add a splash of colour to his winter patio, Graham grows Helleborus Ashwood Garden Hybrids and pansies with Erica x darleyensis, Acorus Ogon, Viburnum tinus, Euonymus japonicus Aureus, Juniperus squamata Blue Carpet and curry plant Helichrysum italicum

Buy plants with at least two clean, green leaves with no black blotches – an indication of leaf spot disease. Check for signs of new shoots emerging from the pot too.

Grow hellebores in a sheltered spot and dappled shade where they’re not exposed to the heat of the midday sun such as in-between deciduous trees and shrubs or display them in pots on a shady north-facing patio.

Plant hellebores in deep holes in well-draining soil, which has been enriched with organic matter. They do best on alkaline and neutral soils and will tolerate slightly acid conditions providing that the soil is not conditioned or top-dressed with peat.

Feed plants growing on poor soils annually in spring with growmore for improved health and vigour.

Mulch the soil around plants with garden compost every year in July or August, just as the new buds are beginning to form and with young plants again autumn to protect the crown and supply nutrients.

In autumn, when the weather is mild, put down 6mm layer of coarse sharp grit over and around the crowns to protect them from slugs.

Tidy plants in late autumn or winter. Trim down to the ground any ageing foliage that has become diseased or unsightly. Cutting off the old leaves will also show off the new emerging flowers to best effect.

Dig up and divide large clumps in autumn or early spring. Plants have very long roots so dig deep. Discard the old woody centre, selecting the healthy, well-rooted outer parts for new planting schemes. They can take some time to re-establish after division.

Don’t expect seeds to grow into identical copies of the parent plant. It’s potluck whether you find a good-looking new variety, so you may prefer to cut off the seed heads to prevent inferior seedlings colonising.

Hellebore seed should be sown, as fresh as possible, in June or July.

Cutting for the vase

When choosing blooms to cut for the vase, wait until the stamens drop before cutting the flowers with long stems and completely immerse them up to the base of the blooms, in cold water, which has been laced with Cut Flower Food, overnight and they should last for up to two weeks in a vase. Alternatively cut them within an inch of the flower head and float the blooms in a bowl. You may find that double blooms last longer as cut flowers than the singles.

NOTE: All parts of this plant are poisonous. Wear gloves when you prune or handle it.

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