It’s that time of the year, when I go around looking for signs of hellebores emerging from the ground. I have seen some for a while, actually – I saw the first shoots long before Christmas, but at this time of year they are painfully slow to come up. This week I have tidied up around the hellebores and taken care of my first hellebore babies!
I started out with hellebores in 2004 with 3 plants, and my garden was different back then so the 3 hellebores were on a slight slope, hanging over an edge onto the lawn. Any seeds produced from flowers escaping my secateurs would not have resulted in anything, they would have ended up on the grass and been cut as I mowed it. Here is my hellebore area after redesigning my garden in 2011 and getting rid of the last bit of lawn. When I moved the 3 Helleborus hybridus further down to where they now are, I accidentally split one of them, so now I got 4 healthy plants, I also added 2 Helleborus niger to my collection a year ago and last autumn I bought a Helleborus hybridus 'Double White Spotted' – so in total I now have 7 mature plants.
This is the biggest of all the Helleborus hybridus, always producing the most flowers, in a dark maroon colour. This year’s new shoots are already emerging in the centre of the plant, but can you spot the tiny leaves that are dotted around everywhere? I couldn’t believe my eyes when I started counting (although I gave up counting after a while, I think there must be more than a hundred seedlings!)
Here are some of the babies, close up. I had to find info on the Internet to find out what to do with them, getting hellebore babies is a new thing to me so I wasn’t sure what to do. After reading for several days I am still unsure what to do with them! Some say to leave them where they are and just let them get on with it on their own. Other say to lift the seedlings when they have got at least one true leaf, some say not until after August. Other again say that the root system on the seedlings are so long that you’ll never get them out of the ground unbroken so they have to be lifted and re-potted as soon as they emerge. Yikes! Which method is right? Which one should I choose??
Here is one seedling, so fresh it still got the seed hanging on, and look at the long root it got! (Hellebore seeds are 3-5 mm long, sorry I should have placed a tape measure here). I can imaging these seedlings will be a nightmare to untangle individually in 6-8 months time unless I dig very deep and then just flush with lots of water. I have never done this before, will be like most things I do; the trial and error method!
After cutting off all the old hellebore leaves I got a bit better view of the seedlings and made a decision to do all 4 methods. Well, at least that’s what I am thinking now, so I have carefully lifted some of the babies that were awkwardly close to the border anyway, they have now got a new home in small pots. I made a compost mix for them which I hope they will like out of 1/3 garden soil, 1/3 finely chipped bark and 1/3 ordinary compost. I then plan to at least try to lift some seedling when they have got a set of true leaves, and then some again after August. Hopefully there will still be some left that can just get on with it on their own!
I got so inspired by the hellebore babies that I looked into the other babies I’ve had this winter, cyclamens! I usually deadhead my cyclamens throughout the autumn, winter and spring, but I let the last few flowers on each plant go to seed late in the spring. I have had cyclamen babies before, lots of them, but they usually die during the spring and don’t emerge next autumn. I assume it is because there are so many of them and perhaps also because as the weather gets warmer they might simply dry out being so close to the surface. I have never thinned them out, just left them to it, but this year I am trying something new, I have re-potted some of the babies to see if they will survive better away from the mother plant and with less competition.
So here are my babies: 20 hellebore seedlings in 10 pots and 117 cyclamen seedlings in 29 pots. If I can find room for more pots I will divide these when necessary, if not I will simply just thin out and discard. The hellebore seedlings might take 3 years before they flower, the cyclamens might take 4 years before first flower – this is not a project for the impatient gardener! But that’s OK, I will put them together with the Lilium regale seeds I planted last November, they also won’t flower for at least 3, maybe 4 years. This autumn I will collect hellebore seeds and sow them fresh, I think it must be much easier to sow directly in pots than try to lift them like I am doing now!
Here is a hellebore that flowers! The first hellebore of 2013, Helleborus niger – not fully open yet, and only one single flower so far, but hopefully more to come :-)
If you have experience with hellebore babies I would love to hear what you do with them! Do you use any of the methods I have described, or something completely different? Do you prefer to sow the fresh seeds or do you let the seeds drop and then deal with the babies? And finally, to all you with hellebore experience; one of my oldest hellebores have stopped producing flowers, it hasn’t produced flowers for the last 4-5 years or so – long before I moved it so it’s got nothing to do with being moved. It produces very healthy leaves every spring so it seems there is nothing wrong with the plant, I just would have liked to see it in flower again. I don’t fertilise my hellebores, I don’t think that’s common to do in Britain, but I give them fresh bark mulch every year. And all the hellebores get the same treatment, it’s just one of them that doesn’t flower anymore. Any suggestion to what I can do with this hellebore would be greatly appreciated. Until next time, take care.