Helleborus x ericsmithii ‘Pirouette’

Many years ago hellebores were only grown by fanatics – no one went into the garden in winter – but now they have the popularity they so rightly deserve. They are easily divided into two types; the caulescent species that form biennial stems and the stemless, acaulescent types. The caulescent species tend to be from warmer climates than ours (apart from the native H. foetidus) and have stems that start to grow in spring of year one and flower and seed in the spring of year two. Then the stems die, but often not before they are covered in aphids. It is strange the way that aphids colonise these plants but at least it gives the ladybirds something to eat.

The acaulescent or ‘herbaceous’ hellebores are much more popular in gardens, mainly due to the popularity of the easy and colourful H. hybridus (formerly H. orientalis) and the equally popular and less easy H. niger (Christmas rose).

There is another type of hellebore – H. vesicarius – from south east Turkey which is summer dormant and rather specialised in its needs.


hell pirouette2

The garden here had no hellebores at all apart from one struggling in the woodland and I can’t cope without some hellebores to show me that winter is passing. So I will be searching garden centres for some good H. hybridus over the next few weeks. It is always worth buying the best you can find, no matter what the cost. These are really good plants and brilliant value. They are long lived and get better every year and they usually self seed around the clumps and if you transplant these seedlings in spring as they appear you can pot them up for a year and then form a drift of them. Helleborus hybridus will grow in sun or part shade but very poor or shaded sites will result in poorer growth and flowers. Their foliage is nice enough and good ground cover. Mix them with hostas and ferns or other shade-loving plants.

In recent years a tidal wave of new hellebores has swamped our gardens. Thirty years ago you could only buy a few inferior seedlings and there were infamous but hard-to-find clones that were slowly increased by division. Now there are many fine seed-raised strains and with the advent of micropropagation many excellent clones are now available at reasonable prices. I feel there is a danger that the proliferation of new clones may make hellebores suffer from the same confusion that has overtaken echinaceas and heucheras with many new series that are hard to get to grips with, often duplicating each other.

While many new flower colours and shapes and patterns have seen H. hybridus dazzle us in the past few years perhaps the biggest changes have come among the many hybrids of the caulescent and acaulescent forms with some new and surprising crosses including the recent and exciting cross of H. foetidus and H. niger ( H.x sahinii ‘Winterbells) that I can’t wait to get.

Helleborus x ericsmithii is a cross of H.x sternii, itself a hybrid of H. argutifolius and H. lividus, and H. niger. It is an attractive plant with masses of white, green-tinged flowers with varying amounts of pink as the flowers develop, inherited from the slightly tender and shortlived H. lividus.

The first of the hellebores I have added to the garden is a recent form of this hybrid called ‘Pirouette’. Raised by Blackthorn Nursery in Hampshire, UK it will reach about 45cm high and wide and has pink and white flowers and buds with that wine red suffusion inherited from H. lividus. The flowers are held fairly upright and are enhanced by some very attractive green nectaries and yellow stamens. Time will tell how well it fares in the garden and in the trade but it looks like a good addition to the garden and three will be planted in the new acer and heather bed tomorrow.

hell pirouette


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  1. With the benefit of experience | The Biking Gardener - March 30, 2020

    […] Helleborus ‘Piroutte’ […]

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