Saturday, May 29, 2010

Elizabeth Town Hellebores

Double hellebores, and nicer hellebores in general, can be expensive propositions when one wants to add them to the garden. I'm not willing to shell out 20 dollars plus for a plant that "probably" will be a double one, so I decided to grow some from seed. Elizabeth Town Hellebores in Tasmania (Australia) is one of the better known breeders, and they send out seed each winter, so I took a chance and ordered some a few years ago. I like that they precondition the seed beforehand to go through a moist warm period, thus by the time it arrives in the northern hemisphere its ready to go into the fridge, where it will germinate in a couple of months time. This allows me to pot up the seedlings right around the time frosts are ending outside but the temps are still cool enough to allow the seedlings to establish and grow. The plants do most of their growing when its cool, and by the third year I had flowers on a couple, and they all flowered this year--over a dozen lovely plants. I was very pleased, even with the singles, which often had attractive spotting or in the case of the white one pictured, had larger than normal flowers. Now the only thing I lack are some good yellows.
Hellebores are easy to grow plants, but success from seeds requires some knowledge about how to handle them. Fresh seed is a must, dried seed more than a couple of months old germinates poorly if at all in my experience. The seeds need a warm moist period of a couple of months to prime them for germination, then a cool period (freezing not required, and not beneficial though they naturally resow with abandon around the parent plants) which I supply by putting them in small ziplocks on moistened paper toweling in the fridge. When roots appear, I take them out and pot them up under lights (usually around March), then move them outdoors as soon as frost danger is past.
The flowers do hang downwards, so one has to "prop" them to get good views/pics, but in early spring when not much else is blooming, they certainly do present a cheery sight.