Hellebore season

January 20th, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Hellebore flowers

It’s hellebore season… I know, the weather has been a bit grim in many parts of the country but if there’s one thing about hellebores – apart from their delightful speckled gorgeousness – it’s that they’re tough. On frosty mornings their stems may be bent right over and the flowers touching the ground – but by midday they’ll be back to normal. They can take it.

But here’s the thing. At this time of year it’s very tempting to cut them and bring them indoors. After all, how much more comfortable to admire them in the house than to get kitted out with a warm coat and a woolly hat to enjoy them outside.

But the thing is, it’s not easy to make them last for more than a few hours in a vase. So here’s a better idea.

First, find your most elegant bowl. A simple glass bowl 20-40cm across is good, or a ceramic bowl you bought at a craft fair, perhaps, or your favourite salad bowl that you won’t be using so much in the winter. Fill it with water to within an inch of its rim.

Next, get that coat and hat on, just this time, and go outside with a plastic kitchen box. Look closely at your hellebores and nip off, with your finger and thumb, or a pair of nail scissors, an individual flower or two from each plant – or all the flowers from one plant, if you like – and put them in the box. Try to choose those flowers that don’t look fluffy around the middle (those where few anthers are shedding pollen). Bring them indoors.

And float the flowers, on their backs, in the water.

You’ll be able to appreciate their subtle colouring, admire the patterns of their colours, and the flowers will last far far longer than if you’d cut the whole stems.

But what got me thinking about hellebores, in fact, was seeing the hellebore seed in the Mr F catalogue. Hellebore seed is fussy, it needs a period of moist warmth followed by cooling temperatures before it will germinate. Cold first, heat later, will give you almost no germination. So order hellebore seed now, by all means, before it sells out. But put it at the back of a kitchen cupboard until June – and sow it then, in pots placed outside.

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Is one of our best known gardening writers. A graduate of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Graham was previously Gardening Correspondent of The Observer.
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