Plant of the Month: March 2021

Hellebore Love!

by Pat Hunter

 I do love Hellebores.

In February 2019, I went to Ashwood Nursery (Yes, the one that we were meant to be visiting for our Day Trip last year) for a conducted tour to see “behind the scenes” to view the stock plants, and the different species they use to produce their beautiful Hellebores.

Our tour started in the stock greenhouse where there were benches of beautiful flowering Hellebores.

These are the stock plants from which they cross pollinate to make the wonderful variety of colours that become the Ashwood garden hybrids.

The latest breakthrough in their Hellebore range being the  Ashwood Evolution Group, which have pale lime green leaves ( which can look a bit sickly- a personal comment) but the flower colours are something else!

Howard Drury

After the stock plant greenhouse, Howard Drury, our tour guide, explained to us the different species of Hellebore and their crosses.

They do say the Ashwood garden hybrids are exclusive to their nursery but they do also, in the talk, give praise to the breeding work of Rodney Davey and the marbled series. Names that are now well known – Anna’s Red, Pippa’s Purple, Penny’s Pink.

Hellebores are mainly evergreen perennial plants in the Ranunculaceae family from deciduous woodland in Europe and Asia.

This makes them ideal for gardens in the UK.

So now to my garden, I have 3 main areas of Hellebores; behind the house, which is north-facing, under a mature Oak tree and the third area is on top of a 6 foot high wall – this makes it very easy to show off the flowers.

Helleborus foetidus

One of the easiest Hellebores throughout my gardening life has been Helleborus foetidus, this self seeds around the garden, but is very easy to remove if it doesn’t fall in the right place. I have never quite managed to get the strain “Wester Flisk” with red stems or “Gold Bullion” with chartreuse green new foliage. I must try harder this year!

The first ones to flower this winter were Harvington double white, such a clean white.

Harvington Double White

Helleborus sternii, which is growing in a pot under the pergola as it is meant to be slightly more tender, flowers at the same time.

Helleborus sternii

This interspecies hybrid has now been bred with silver leaved varieties and used in breeding to produce the x ericsmithii hybrid which is a cross using H. niger, so it is hardy.

Springfield seedling

This is the other one that was flowering for New Year, and in my New Year flower count, a speckled hybrid.

Anna’s Red – buds

There is promise of more to come:

Meanwhile, just to show how adaptable Hellebores are, this is a Winter pot by the front door with Helleborus niger ‘Christmas Carol’ and Helleborus x sternii ‘Silver Dollar’.

Helleborus niger

Helleborus niger is the next to flower, with a much waxier leaf. Just look at those leaf edges –

(vine weevil?)

It is now into February and the Hellebores are in full flowering mode,

Walberton’s Rosemary is a firm favourite. It looks outward and the clump increases well.

Anna’s Red finally gets round to flowering (see the buds with the snow earlier).

Anna’s Red

The others around the garden include some of the many hybrids, double speckled.


One from the Evolution group,

And finally the Springfield seedlings, these are my hybrids. I do not help with any crosses, they are small plants that are grown on in the garden until they flower, at which point I either keep them or discard depending on their colours and markings.

Hellebores do not work well as cut flowers in the house but they are often displayed in a bowl of water.

A bowl at Springfield on 24th February.

But a giant pot at Ashwood nursery!

Pat Hunter

Pictures courtesy of Pat Hunter

Desert Island Plants: Judith Ladley

1 Papaver cambricum double-flowered, orange (d) (formerly Meconopsis cambrica aurantiaca flore-pleno

My original plant was purchased from Mrs Sybil Spencer at York Gate.  Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be grown there currently but I love it.

Papaver cambricum double-flowered, orange (d)

2 Hebe Hulkeana

I bought this plant many years ago from Mrs Philippa Rakusen who lived near Wetherby and had a strong association with Harlow Carr.

Hebe hulkeana

3 Filipendula ‘Red Umbrellas’

Fairly new in my garden but I like its colour combination.

Filipendula ‘Red Umbrellas’

4 Heliopsis helianthoides ‘Burning Hearts’

 I like the dark foliage which emphasizes the bright flowers.

Heliopsis helianthoides ‘Burning Hearts’

5 Helleborus foetidus Wester Flisk group

This is one of my favourites -I enjoy its foliage as much as its flowers.

Helleborus foetidus Wester Flisk Group

6 Helleborus orientalis

A good specimen bought at Dove Cottage nursery.  It produces good seedlings.

Helleborus orientalis

7 Euphorbia griffithii ‘Dixter’

I first saw this at Newby Hall and couldn’t rest until I got one! 

Euphorbia griffithii ‘Dixter’

8 Crepis rubra

Originally bought from a little nursery near Richmond a long time ago and I found it again at the nursery near Luddenden Foot.  Its very difficult to propagate.

Crepis rubra

9 Euphorbia polychroma

Growing in a crack in my path!

Euphorbia polychroma

10 Galega officinalis mauve form 

This is one of the first plants I remember as a child.  I think my Mother acquired it from a family member and it has been around ever since.  I do have a white form but this mauve one is special! Unfortunately I don’t have a picture of the mauve form – here is the ‘Alba’ version

Galega x hartlandii ‘Alba’

All images courtesy of Judith Ladley, except Euphorbia ‘Dixter and Galega ‘Alba’ which are from the HPS Image Library

Desert Island Plants: Maggie Sugden

1 Melittis melissophyllum ‘Royal Velvet Distinction

This is a plant I have had a long time and it has moved house twice. Very reliable and a prolific flowerer in spring.

Melittis melissophyllum ‘Royal Velvet Distinction’

2 Paeonia ‘Buckeye Bell

I bought this from Binny’s Plants when I went with ‘The Gardeniers’ (our little gardening visiting group) up to an HPS AGM in Scotland many years ago. Again it moved house in 2012.

Paeonia ‘Buckeye Belle’

3 Rosa ‘Guinee

A beautiful rose that flowers all summer. It was formerly on a wall that is now inside as we had an extension in 2018. It has taken well and flowered in its new position. (Sorry – no picture available for this one)

4 Rosa ‘Wollerton Old Hall

A special rose bought when we visited the hall on our HPS holiday

Rosa ‘Wollerton Old Hall’

5 Hosta ‘George Smith

Another plant that moves with me, George Smith is a famous flower arranger who lives in Heslington near York. I have visited his beautiful garden a number of times and bought this on one of my early visits.

Hosta ‘George Smith’

6 Galanthus plicatus ‘Wendy’s Gold

A beautiful yellow one that cost the earth. I bought it at Primrose Bank nursery in 2019, when they opened for their snowdrops A super day and will go again when I can.

Galanthus plicatus ‘Wendy’s Gold’

7 Delphinium ‘Alice Artindale

An unusual delphinium that I got from either Liz or Jackie Giles. I have tried it a few times but it likes where it is and is now flourishing.

Delphinium ‘Alice Artindale’

8 Coronilla valentina subsp. glauca

A wonderful winter shrub, I bought this a few years ago for this garden.

Coronilla valentina subsp. glauca

I have had it in others and bought it because Gill Evans always brought it to the Plant Forums and I loved it. It is also perfumed.

9 Prunus serrula

This is small tree that has the most wonderful bark It needs to be positioned where it receives a backlit sun Spectacular.

Prunus serrula

10 Daphne tangutica Retusa Group

Bought at Harrogate Show in 2001. Again moved house with me. Transplanted well and the pink flowers begin in spring and go through the summer.

Daphne tangutica Retusa Group

All images courtesy of Maggie Sugden, except Prunus, Daphne, Coronilla & Hosta which are from the HPS Image Library

Desert Island Plants: Sue Gray

‘Seemed like a good idea at the time’ was going through my mind as I tried to come up with my 10 ‘Desert Island Plants’.  Several lists were started and discarded; I could not whittle my favourite plants down to 10 genera, let alone 10 individual plants.  Eventually I came up with a plan – the plants had to be those that I thought it would be difficult to replace and, in many cases, had particular meaning or memories attached to them.  This explains why there is only one anemone and no epimediums, erythroniums, primulas or penstemons, all of which I love, but I felt could be replaced by visits to specialist nurseries or plant fairs.  You might not be surprised to learn that, when I analysed the choices, many of them had come from David Barnes’ garden.  They are in order of when you might expect them to flower.

1 Cardamine enneaphylla

I apologise that the image of this plant is not of it in the garden but in a pot.  A big clump of this plant was lifted from David’s garden last spring and potted up into a number of pots, where it flowered.  At the time, because of the leaf shape, I felt it was probably a Cardamine, but did not know which one, so I took the photo to send to a knowledgeable friend for identification.

Cardamine enneaphylla

When the foliage emerges it is almost black and glossy; it slowly changes to green but carries lovely cream flowers.  I am looking forward to seeing this stunning plant emerge this spring in more than one area of the garden.

2 Anemone pavonina

Many years ago – probably about 15 years – Gill organised a trip to Ashwood Nursery, particularly in order for us to look at their hellebores.  We set off in some trepidation as there was snow on the ground – my husband thought we were mad! – but we arrived safely and, although because of the snow we were not able to go round John Massey’s garden, we had a conducted tour of the glasshouses where we saw the processes involved in breeding the new varieties of hellebore.  Needless to say, a number of purchases were made in the nursery, and although I did bring home one hellebore, I also brought some pots of Anemone pavonina which I thought were beautiful.

Anemone pavonina

The Ashwood website says that they originate from the olive groves and hillside grasslands of the Mediterranean, but they seem to cope with the edge of Ilkley Moor.  The foliage starts to emerge any time from September on, and the flowers follow from February – April.  They come in various shades of pink and red which can sometimes seem a bit incongruous in early spring, but I love them.

3 Paeonia daurica

Paeonia daurica has a number of sub-species, perhaps the best known of which is ‘mlokosewitschii’, or ‘Molly the Witch’ to you & me.  If I had more choices available to me, a pot of ‘Molly’ would definitely be in my removal van, but as I don’t, I will settle for this.  Again, a plant lifted from David’s garden, at entirely the wrong time of year, early March, when it was already in full leaf and bud.  Going purely by the shape of the leaf, I assumed that it was a plant of ‘Molly’ – although it did not have the characteristic pink flush to the foliage – so I was amazed when it eventually produced pink flowers.

Paeonia daurica

4 Glaucidium palmatum

I am very torn, if I can only have one pot of it, whether to take the white or mauve strain – they are both so beautiful.  I have been struggling to cultivate the mauve version for a number of years, to lesser or greater effect, particularly as it is an absolute delicacy for slugs and snails!  When I was told that I could take whatever plants I liked from David’s garden, I knew that this was a must.  Even though it was dormant at the time, and the garden was becoming overgrown, I could remember exactly where it was and immediately went to the spot where, lo & behold I found a label!

Providing that the slugs can be kept at bay, the fresh green foliage sets off the beautiful cup-shaped flowers, and I am entranced by it.

5 Magnolia laevifolia

This is the only shrub or tree in my selection, largely because virtually all the others that I have could be replaced reasonably easily and relatively inexpensively, but not so Magnolia laevifolia!  Having first come across it in a talk at an HPS event I eventually sourced it through a nursery in the south west and collected it when on a planning trip for our Group holiday to Somerset.  I don’t think it is the hardiest variety of Magnolia, and is not a particularly robust plant, but I am hoping that it will come through this colder winter unscathed, and flower as well as it did last year.

Magnolia laevifolia

6 Paeonia ‘Claire de Lune’

Another of David’s plants!  It is usually the earliest of my larger peonies to flower, and makes a real show.  We used it our Chelsea display in 2010.

Paeonia ‘Claire de Lune’

7 Polemonium ‘Sonia’s Bluebell’

Another plant that was used on our 2010 Chelsea display was my plant of ‘Sonia’s Bluebell’.  I was so thrilled to have one of my plants used on the display, and even more thrilled when Carol Klein recorded a piece about it for the ‘Red Button’ television coverage.  Apparently the plant was discovered in her friend Sonia’s garden – hence the name – and Sonia had helped Carol on her first ever Chelsea display but then sadly died the next year.  The last sentence of her TV piece was ‘so it’s nice to see Sonia back at Chelsea’.

It is a lovely Polemonium, emerging with dark foliage that gradually fades to green.  As she is a hybrid, and does not set seed, she is not invasive like other ‘Jacob’s Ladders’ can be, and after the first flush of flowers in late spring, will continue to flower, on and off, for most of the summer.

8 Campanula foliosa

Campanula foliosa

I first acquired this lovely plant from Margaret Denton but, apart from it being a Campanula, she wasn’t sure what it was.  When the RHS AGM was held at Harlow Carr a few years ago, I cut a stem and took it with me to see whether I could get an identification.  Obviously it did not like being out of water, so was not looking at its best when I showed it to a group of the ‘great & good’ of the RHS, but no identification was forthcoming – not even sure whether it was a Campanula!  It was left to John Grimshaw to eventually identify it for me, and since then I am pleased to have been able to give him a plant, as he had lost his.

It is so eye-catching with the vibrant mauve flower and seems to be happy where I now have it in fairly full sun, after trying in one or two other areas of the garden.

9 Dactyllorhiza

These plants came as a very generous gift from an HPS friend and I just love them.  I am not sure what variety they are – ‘purpurea’?  I have had them in the past but was greedy and lifted them to split, which they did not appreciate, so in many ways I would be reluctant to lift these, but I would have to take some with me.


10 Kniphofia rooperi

Over the past few years I have gradually started to appreciate ‘pokers’ more, probably because of the new varieties that have been introduced.  I cannot remember where I first saw K. rooperi, probably on a television programme, but eventually I acquired it at a Norfolk nursery that we visited on our Group holiday.  It took a couple of years to start flowering, but was well worth the wait.  Although it looks very untidy through the winter, I have usually left the foliage in situ, but a friend was helping me ‘cut back’ this year and all the foliage has been removed, so I am keeping my fingers crossed for this summer!

Kniphofia rooperi

So, those are just 10 of the plants that I would definitely want to take with me if I had to leave my present garden.  I think that, if all else failed, it would have to come down to 10 very large pots, each containing a number of smaller plants,  but that would be cheating – wouldn’t it???

All images courtesy of Sue Gray, except the close-up of Polemonium ‘Sonia’s Bluebull’ which is from the HPS Image Library