Hellebore and Narcissus to Dream of

I certainly don’t dream of hellebores but if I did it would something like Harvington Double Purple Speckled. Do you know, looking at the photograph now it is almost perfect and although all the blooms failed to front up, this one turned its face directly to the camera. I mentioned Twelve Nuns Nursery yesterday and this is one of their introductions.

Harvington Double Yellow Speckled

Whilst photographing the hellebore I nearly trod on Narcissus ‘Mitzy’. That would have been a nightmare, continuing the dream imagery. I only have two of the bulbs …. though great ambitions. It doesn’t quite show in the photograph but ‘Mitzy’ has the longest, thinnest nose of a Pinocchio telling the most outrageous porkies. It is a tad taller than ‘The Englander’ featured yesterday, the corona a similar size if stretched out in a truly attractive manner. A distinctive miniature from that most prolific of breeders, Alec Gray, in 1965. Some of my favourite daffodils were hybridised by Alec.

Narcissus ‘Mitzy’

I thought I’d lost ‘Trena’, drowned in our largest sink garden but there she was this afternoon, pictured after a sudden shower. I’m going to move her because she hasn’t thrived and although this is not a rare variety – she goes back to 1971 and has been awarded the cherished AGM from the equally cherished RHS – I hate to lose plants. Half as big again as ‘The Englander’, the bulb was bred by the late New Zealand breeder, Mavis Verry.

Narcissus ‘Trena’

Ground level miniatures

Miniature narcissus look best at eye level on the display table. This piece of advice is offered freely as I dirtied my knees from taking a photograph of a tiny daffodil planted with its fellows in the border. So this is ‘Camborne’, a lovely pale miniature that would look sensational if I was peering at it from eye level, focusing the camera to get the best shot, moving the pot a little for the best angle, perhaps bending my knee a tad, all to get that spontaneous, natural shot. As it is the trousers need to go to the wash.

Narcissus ‘Camborne’

Helleborus Harvington Double Purple looks a million dollars in photograph and garden. I bought it for £1 a few years ago from one of those bargain benches for sad plants, those that have passed their best or never achieved it. Advised by my wife not to bother, I took a chance, invested wisely, fed it, molly coddled it, gave it time, and it has repaid that investment richly. I’d recommend this variety.

Helleborus Harvington Double Purple

Talking about plants for nothing, how about species crocus that seed themselves freely in borders and lawn. Various shades of these exquisite gems are all over the garden and at some time I’ll have to consider the grass mower…. but not yet.

Self seeded Crocus tommasinianus

It’s the end of the road for the snowdrops as time waits for no man. One or two left. ‘The Whopper’ is an Irish snowdrop that doesn’t quite live up to its name, certainly not in its present pot. Unlike the miniature narcissus this deserves to be grown in the border where it can gain sustenance and live up to the billing.

Galanthus ‘The Whopper’

A hellebore, snowdrop and hepatica: ‘Anna’Red’

Hellebores have infiltrated my winter garden consciousness. They provide a rich colour to the winter border, in sun or shade, rich or arid soil. ‘Anna’s Red’ is a commercial success and generally I like to grow something less obvious. However I sought this cultivar out in the autumn having seen it at RHS Harlow Carr. Anything they can do I can do …. less well. Do look at that rich red/purple and the yellow stamens; and although my photograph fails to show it, the foliage is beautifully marked. It was named after The Independent’s gardening correspondent, Anna Pavord, by breeder, Rodney Davey.

Helleborus ‘Anna’s Red’

Galanthus ‘Priscilla Bacon’ is my newest snowdrop, obtained from an authoritative and delightful friend via my #galanthus69 Instagram account. Social media can do this. I now have a clump of this textured, late flowering snowdrop. She’s similar to ‘Augustus’, still in flower here, only more globular and slightly bigger. It was named after the late galanthrophile, Lady Priscilla Bacon, discovered in her garden at Raveningham Hall in Norfolk.

Galanthus ‘Priscilla Bacon’

And one of my hepaticas, shown here as a pot of blooms all showy, temperamental, glorious. The flowers of Hepatica japonica Momohonabi have a deep purple to commence their display then expand to this bit of magic. Oh for an alpine house.

Hepatica japonica Momohonabi

And just time to throw into the mix just one of a number of yellow seedlings discovered in a border today, all very adjacent to named varieties. Easy this breeding lark.

Yellow Seedling

Hellebores ‘Harvington x hybridus double purple’, ‘Ice n’ Roses Red’,‘Harvington Single Picotee’ & ‘Ice n’Roses Rose’

Hellebores are certainly features of the winter garden though here in Yorkshire we tend to see them open out towards the end of February – now! I love them. Over the years we’ve accumulated quite a few. So from this afternoon’s photographic safari here are three delights. Harvington x hybridus double purple is such a deep rich colour made all the more beautiful with its contrasting cream stamens. Like many hellebores it does have a tendency to droop however. Gorgeous though.

Harvington x hybridus double purple

Second up and a more upright variety, the outward facing German introduction, ‘Ice n’ Roses Red’. This vigorous plant has a rich claret colour and dominates the border, or at least it will in about two weeks as it fully opens out.

Helleborus ‘Ice n’ Roses Red’

Last up from today’s display is ‘Harvington picotee’, one of our oldest plants in the border. It has only just opened out but such is its beauty with purple veining and picotee margin, the camera came out.

Helleborus x hybridus ‘Harvington Single Picotee’

Finally, I’ll revisit a hellebore I featured a week or so ago as a seedling. I might, characteristically, have got this wrong. I do have many seedling hellebores although I received an incorrectly labelled plant last year from a nursery. The nurseryman had no idea of the variety, telling me he didn’t stock such a colour. So I received one for free and, on reflection, this is it rather than one of our seedlings. Its outward facing habit suggests it is from the ‘Ice n’Roses’ range that it was included in. It might be ‘Ice n’Roses Rose’. However it is not quite the same as images I have seen. But that’s what I’ll term it. I wouldn’t wish to claim a valuable introduction with which to earn the fortune I’ve always aspired to. And I’m just going to have to label my plants because my memory is not what it was. I think you will agree, whatever the name it is rather attractive and almost brash staring you in the eye.

Helleborus ‘Ice n’Roses Rose’

Seedling Hellebore

Our hellebores regularly seed themselves and generally they follow their parents. This was particularly noticeable when I lost the exquisite Harvington Double White, seen below in 2017. Luckily I had picked out a few seedlings and potted them on. They turned out to be as near as damn it to the original. They’ve not appeared as yet so I’m hoping they won’t be like mum in expiring before their time. This has to be my favourite hellebore.

Helleborus Harvington Double White, February 2017
Unnamed Seedling Hellebore, Picotee Form

Sometimes seedlings surprise and delight and the garden’s latest contribution to saving its household money is now showing. In the face of Storm Christoph I ventured out to photograph it. I suppose it should be described as a ‘picotee’ form, with the darker edges. Anyway it’s very nice and bursting with buds. There’s no excuse for an absence of colour in the winter garden. Hellebores are more and more exciting as the breeders get to work. And here’s my tiny contribution.

Galanthus ‘Mrs Macnamara’ and Seedling Hellebore

The first ever ‘collector’s’ snowdrop I purchased was at North Easton Gardens and it was ‘Mrs Macnamara’ about which I have written several times.

Galanthus ‘Mrs Macnamara’

The image is nothing special I’ll grant you but its reliability of early flowering, stature and classic form make it a special snowdrop in our garden. This is a must have for the winter garden. Unfortunately it simply has not increased in numbers and I’d love to show you a large clump. I shall have to move it elsewhere. Four weeks ago I saw a large display at RHS Harlow Carr Gardens so it does spread. It must be me.

Unnamed Hellebore seedling

Nothing is more exciting than the opening out of something new and here it is. Last year it had no flowers and amazingly this year it is full of buds having been moved to a protected spot in the sun and cared for like never before as I’ve been available all year due to obvious travel restrictions. I’m looking forward to it fully opening out. Perhaps I shall give it a name…

Maturing Hellebore Turns Green

As Hellebores age they change colour. What we see as petals are actually sepals or, even more correctly, tepals, the outer leaf of the flower designed in all probability to protect the bud. The greening process is said to aid photosynthesis and is a process known as senescence, occurring rather like leaves losing their colour in autumn, occasioned by a reduction in proteins and sugars. Here the hellebore in my view is enhanced as the green blooms complement the new pure white ones. I much prefer them to the forms that pink up. Should my shorthand account be insufficiently informative or detailed do read this account that explains the process in more detail than any human being should ever be forced to suffer. Luckily my hellebores, other than the specimen below, are still in bud and some months short of their ‘demise’ so no other green or pink tepals, petals or sepals to tease you with.

Helleborus ‘Verboon Beauty’

Hellebore niger ‘Verboom Beauty’ for Christmas

 The weather was perishing cold today yet I can take any low temperature provided the sun is out which it was as we set off for a walk in nearby Nostell Priory. Arriving there and drinking my usual caffe latte outside we had dark clouds and rain. The intended long walk was shorter than intended. Driving back the sun came out. Hellebore niger ‘Verboom Beauty’ graces our porch. It was bred specifically to flower at Christmas and indoors. The cool porch is perfect. So is a plant one may enjoy whatever the weather.

Helleborus x orientalis ‘Frilly Isabelle’, Helleborus orientalis "Madame Lemonnier" & Galanthus "Trymming"

Helleborus  x  orientalis ‘Frilly Isabelle’

The greatest drawback with hellebores is their drooping habit. When I purchased  ‘Frilly Isabelle’ it was on a display stand and its bad habit was not so obvious. I also liked the name. The latter is no recipe for parting with money though I have seen snowdrops sold for large figures on the basis of little more than an affecting name. So I have planted “Frilly Isabelle” in a pot high on a shelf from which to admire the delicate beauty.

Helleborus orientalis “Madame Lemonnier”

“Madame Lemonnier” has large flowers that make an impact with the rich colour of a good wine. She is more full on, literally and figuratively, than her frilly cousin but she always smiles at you. As befits her name, “Madame Lemonnier” originates from a specialist breeder in Normandy, France, an unlikely sport of H. x hybridus and H. niger.

Galanthus “Trymming”

Galanthus “Trymming” is singularly striking as it just begins to unfurl its pagoda shaped petals with the mandatory flash of green on white, its solitary flower still the same as last year. It is though one of the more attainable derivatives of “Trym”.  Alan Street of the Chelsea Gold Medal winning Avon Bulbs explains it can have two scapes if well grown. By that measure, mine is not.