Container winner: Plant frost-hardy evergreen hellebores in a semi-shaded container in the garden on a patio or under trees. Pictures: Connall Oosterbroek
Container winner: Plant frost-hardy evergreen hellebores in a semi-shaded container in the garden on a patio or under trees. Pictures: Connall Oosterbroek

Johannesburg - “Falling in love three or more times a day is a distinct possibility when you have hellebores in your garden,” says hellebore grower, Thelma Carson of Archies Plants in Morningside, Joburg. “No flower has more variety or form with its speckles, stripes, spots and delicately veined petals,” she says.

“Hellebores (Helleborous hybridus) are the queen of winter flowers, and gift us with blooms in jewel-like colours in late winter and early spring.

“Recent developments by hellebore breeders have resulted in new hybrids which look like water lily-like doubles with anemone-style centres in shades of purples, burgundies, silver slates, pinks through to whites, cream and greens. Every hybrid has their own particular characters of shadings and spottings,” she adds.

“Although the flowers of hellebores have the look of great delicacy, the plant is robust and tough and can last a lifetime. “Hellebores are survivors, having been known even in ancient Greece, when they were used medicinally. Moreover, they are easy to grow given the correct conditions,” she adds.

Hellebores do wonderfully in containers, in small or large gardens and in large landscapes because they are evergreen, frost-hardy and thrive in a part-sun conditions.

“I have seen hellebores growing in full sun in Joburg during the Gauteng winters,” says Carson, “But they do best where they get half-day sun, or at least very good light. In summer, shield the plants from the noon-day sun.

“Hellebores are slow-growing plants, taking some three years to flower from seed, but improve with age in favourable conditions, producing abundant flowers. “We have had up to 120 flowers on one plant,” says Carson.

“A bowl filled with hellebores makes a stunning centrepiece, flowers lasting up to two to three weeks indoors.”

Archies Plants has been growing hellebores for 18 years, importing seed from the world-class hybridisers abroad. “We have recently even supplied seed to a nursery abroad and send plants by courier throughout the country.”

Early August is a great time to fill shady spots around your garden with an evergreen spring-flowering Lenten rose or hellebore. Although hellebores can be planted at any time of the year, August is a good time to choose a variety based on the colour of the flowers.

Native to the forests of Europe, hellebores are ancient plants that have become increasingly popular over the past 35 years.

Why are hellebores gaining so much popularity locally? A long flowering period and a much loved bee-magnet are part of its charm. “The hellebore flower remains on the bush for about five months, going through curious colour changes as time progresses. As soon as the anthers open, the bees arrive and pollinate the flower,” says Carson. Once pollinated, the flowers slowly change from their “party dress” colours to shades of green or mauve giving the plant a long, fascinating feature.

Caring for hellebores

Growing hellebores turned from being a fascinating hobby to a full time occupation for Carson. This week, she offers her expertise and advice on how best to grow hellebores successfully in your garden:

* Hellebores enjoy a loamy soil. Work well before planting and add a little lime if possible.

* Dig a hole at least 400mm deep to accommodate the vigorous root system. Add a little manure to the bottom of the hole, plenty of compost and a cup of bone meal. Drainage must be good.

* Spread mulch at the base of plants. Water the plant twice weekly in the active growing season and feed bi-monthly with a liquid fertiliser. Hellebores are heavy feeders and will benefit by a quarterly feed of Neutrog’s Bounceback and compost or some other organic fertiliser.

* Plants can be propagated by digging up the rhizome and separating the main section but this will set the plant back a few seasons. Seeds can be harvested and planted and will germinate in nine months. Mostly, seedlings will appear below the plant in winter.

* If you have hellebores in pots, remove any seedlings that start to grow alongside the parent plant as they are fierce competitors for food.

* Aphids present a problem as the weather warms up but it is easily dealt with using regular pesticide, soapy water or an organic “tea” brewed from chilli and garlic in boiling water. These plants are generally easy to grow and are disease-free.

Hellebores are extremely long- lived plants and will probably outlive the garden. With their delicate beauty, scents and infinite variations of colour and markings they are able to lighten the garden magically.

Interested in hellebores? Attend the Hellebore Festival, August 2-30, except Sundays, 9:30am to 2:30pm. Archies Plants, 24 Murray Ave, cnr Ridgeway Drive, Morningside Manor, Sandton. Contact Thelma Carson on 083 326 6497.

Saturday Star