The most familiar, and widely grown hellebores, are forms of Helleborus x hybridus, which used to be Helleborus orientalis, or ‘the Lenten rose’. It’s in its glory long before Lent – even when Easter comes early – but its common name was presumably given to distinguish it from ‘The Christmas Rose’, Helleborus niger, which flowers even earlier, sometimes in December, but usually in January. One of the features that makes hellebores so prized by gardeners is that they’re so easy to cross-breed. They will hybridise by themselves, without any assistance from the gardener, creating fabulous new colours and strains. Or you can step in – no special skills required – to help create plants that are unique to your garden.
If you decide to grow your own plants, all you need are two really good hellebores and a lot of patience. If your varieties are mediocre, or you just don’t have any, treat yourself to some new ones. Either choose two quite different varieties or, if you want to concentrate on a particular characteristic or colour, choose those that display unique features. Plants can be pollinated in pots in cold frames or unheated greenhouses, or outside in the open garden. It’s warmer work when done in the greenhouse, but pollinated flowers are more prone to rotting when indoors.
When your new seedlings flower for the first time, in the depths of the winter gloom, you will have the privilege of being the first person ever to gaze at that flower. No wonder hellebores have made themselves indispensable to anyone who wants their garden to shine at this dreary time of year.
You Will Need
- Hellebore plants
- Marker pen
- Wool in different colours
- Plant labels
- Loam-based compost
- Horticultural grit
- 10cm pots
In February or March select the plants from which you will breed your hellebore. Choose a ‘mother’ plant – the one to be pollinated, which will eventually bear the seeds – for its vigour and a good, even flower shape. Choose a ‘father’ plant – which will supply the pollen – for the colour and shape of its flowers. Rub your pen vigorously against your sleeve to produce static and place it next to the anthers – the pollen almost jumps onto the pen.
Carefully open a fat, virgin bud of the ‘mother’ plant and dab the collected pollen on to the central stigma. Close the petals and, if you can, repeat the process on three separate days.
Loosely tie a bit of coloured wool behind the flower of your ‘mother’ plant so you can identify it later. Place a paper bag around the flower to stop bees adding pollen from different hellebores.
In your notebook, make a note of the plants you have cross-pollinated. Also, it’s also a good idea to cut a piece of wool and tape it into the book, so you know which notes refer to which plant.
Keep an eye on the developing seedpods and catch them before they fall to the ground. Sow them on the surface of moist, gritty, loam-based compost, and cover with a fine layer of grit. Keep the pots outside or in a cold frame.
Germination occurs the following autumn and winter. Pot the seedlings on when the first true leaves have emerged. As long as you look after the plants and they grow strongly, they should flower the following year.