2018-02-09 / Home & Garden

Hybridizing Hellebores

Stopping to smell the flowers
By Arlene Marturano

On a mid- winter visit to Riverbanks Botanical Garden, you will be greeted by colorful cup and bell-shaped nodding flowers in a colony of hellebores in the shade garden dedicated to Orene Horton, the late Columbia garden writer and gardener who introduced the virtues of Lenten roses, Helleborus x hybridus to Midland gardeners.

Lenten roses are not roses at all but receive their name from the time of year they are in full vivid color during Lent, the weeks leading up to Easter. The single or double blooms in virtually any color except true blue and true red make attractive cut flower arrangements.

The simple and elegant way to arrange them is to cut them an inch from the flowerhead and float them in a shallow dish of water like you would camellias. For long stemmed ( 8- 12”) vase arrangements cut stems only after stamens have dropped to insure long-lasting enjoyment.

When cutting for arrangements, remove all leaves that will be under the water and sear the ends in boiling water for 30 seconds to ‘seal in’ in the moisture.


Hellebores ‘Winter Jewels’ 3” flowers have petals that look painted by an artist. Hellebores ‘Winter Jewels’ 3” flowers have petals that look painted by an artist. The easy to grow, deer-proof, long-blooming, evergreen herbaceous perennials have become essential elements in American gardeners in USDA hardiness zones 4- 9.

Hellebores thrive in shade with well-drained soil rich in organic matter. Bed Lenten roses with other shade-loving perennials like ferns, gingers, hostas, and foam-flowers in a woodland garden.

Since Lenten roses, in particular, are easily cross- pollinated with each other, breeders like Ernie and Marietta O’Byrne of Northwest Garden Nursery in Oregon and Barry Glick of Sunshine Farm and Gardens in West Virginia have created a wide variety of selections for landscapers and homeowners to choose from.


Hellebores ‘Sunshine Sensation’ are double and anemone Lenten rose F1 hybrids from Sunshine Farm and Gardens. Hellebores ‘Sunshine Sensation’ are double and anemone Lenten rose F1 hybrids from Sunshine Farm and Gardens. Hellebore hybridizing starts in January when breeders take watercolor brushes, tags, and alcohol into stock plant greenhouses. The time consuming and meticulous task of moving pollen from plant to plant is done by hand.

Three months later in April, breeders place small fabric bags over hellebore flowers to keep track of seeds from each cross.

Since seeds ripen at different times, the bags protect from loss of seeds. Bags are tagged to keep the history of each cross. Seeds ripen in a month. By May bags are opened and seed is cleaned before sowing in flats for next year’s plants.

The British are known as the best breeders of hellebores and have written extensively on the subject. (See The Gardener’s Guide to Growing Hellebores by Graham Rice and Elizabeth Strangman, Timber Press, Portland, OR, 2005.

‘Penny’s Pink’ is a clonal Lenten rose introduced in the UK and named after Penelope Hobhouse.‘Penny’s Pink’ is a clonal Lenten rose introduced in the UK and named after Penelope Hobhouse.
If there is a down side to hellebores, it is that all parts of the plant are poisonous to humans and our dog, cat, and horse companions if ingested.

In addition to the mail-order sources below, local full service garden centers stock Lenten roses.

Lenten Rose Sources
www.sunfarm.com/
www.plantdelights.com/


Helleborus double green spotted can be started easily from seed.Helleborus double green spotted can be started easily from seed.

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