Two years ago we made a new bed for hellebores, partly shaded by the high north-facing wall, and overplanted with hydrangea paniculata 'limelight'. The soil here is cool and damp, and we've improved it with two or three lavish applications of well-rotted organic matter. The hydrangeas are cut back each year (chiefly when we pick them in the early autumn, although there is a little pruning left to do next week) to a modest framework, which will become interstingly gnarly in time; this means that when the hellebores are covered in bloom there is plenty of space for the flower heads to bob about, and so long as we remember to remove the old leathery leaves in time, there is plenty of air circulation too. Hellebores are suceptible to botrytis, a disease which blackens and contorts the stems, leaves and flowers, and which we have noticed on a few of our plants at the Flower Garden. Plants need good air circulation to keep healthy.
Some of these varieties we bought locally as young plants, described as "mixed oriental hybrids"; the others were tiny seedlings given to us by a kind customer. It is said that large, established plants don't like to be moved, and that it's much better to plant small seedlings and wait for them to establish. We pick almost all the flowers produced by our hellebores, but if the flowers are left to go to seed, they readily seed about and make babies, which will grow into more new hybrid varieties - cream, pink, plum, single, double, ruffled, speckled - all lovely surprises as they grow.
We sometimes pick a stem or two of hellebore to put into a bud vase at this time of year, but they never last, even when the stems are seared. To pick them as a crop, we wait until early April, when the flowers are starting to make seedpods and the petals are a little more papery; at this stage the stems are much stronger and they last quite well in water. There are more little tiny plants at the base of one or two of our more established beauties, and I wait impatiently to see what kind of flowers they will eventually produce.