Monday, 19 April 2021

"Gold Collection" Hellebores: are they worth the money?

This is a rather sad trend, which  I've noticed over the past few years: Clients proudly produce a pot containing a large, freshly bought Hellebore, gorgeous, lush, beautiful: and they ask me to plant it in their garden.

I read the label - to be honest, I don't need to read the label, I can tell by looking at it, that it's a Gold Collection Hellebore - and my soul shrinks within me: how do I break the news to them, it's Gold Collection, and therefore *spine chilling chord on the Hammond organ* it is going to DIE.

Yes, folks: they all DIE.

Before we turn to "why", let's look at "what".  What exactly is a Gold Collection Hellebore?

Hellebores come in a few different species: there's the "wild" one, Helleborus foetidus, with the charming and slightly misleading common name of Stinking Hellebore: there are a couple of less common ones such as H. argutifolius (Corsican Hellebore) and the rarely seen H. viridis, or Green Hellebore.

And then there's the usual garden plant, H. orientalis, which is variously known as Lenten Rose, Oriental Hellebore, or Hybrid Hellebore: this is the one which most of us have in our gardens.

They have beautiful flowers, which they hold in a lovely Princess-Diana-like wilting stoop, so that in order to properly appreciate them, you have to stop, bend over, and gently turn them up to face you. 

Or, if you have a very good gardener (*smirks*) you plant them on a raised bed, or on the edges of the terracing, so that the owners are looking upwards, into their lovely faces, instead of looking downwards onto them. (*disengages smug mode*)

Because of this, and the general laziness of the plant-buying public, the company behind the Gold Collection bred a whole selection of Hellebores by crossing H. orientalis with H.argutifolius and H. viridis, in an attempt to get something hardy, but which would hold the flowers upwards, or at least, facing outwards. 

 They also went for the most dramatic colours, and the super-double frilly petals - you know, the ones so hated by bee-lovers, because the flower structure is so complex that bees struggle to get inside them.

They cost a lot of money, they look fantastic, but they all DIE!!

One of my Clients bought a dozen of them, one year: the following year, only two of them came up again, and they were - to be perfectly honest - quite straggly and nowhere near as lush as when they were bought.

Here's a typical example: this Client bought a beautiful dark red Gold Collection Hellebore, it stood nearly a yard high, fantastic thing: but this is what happened to it two days after purchase:

yes, it wilted in the cold weather, and all the lovely stems flopped outwards.

It looked rather as though a grenade had gone off.

So, not fully hardy, then. And this would be the bulk of the "why" question: they DIE because they are not fully hardy, they can't survive outdoors in the UK.

Also: (and this is my pet peeve, which applies to many, many garden centre plants) they are not properly hardened off: no doubt they were all shipped in from Europe where they had been growing in polytunnels, and no doubt they were kept in a sheltered polytunnel once they arrived in the UK.

I always suggest to Clients that, in winter, when they go to garden centres,  they don't buy plants which are stacked on wheeled trolleys: there is a very good chance that the trolleys are wheeled under cover at night, so you have no way of knowing how long they've been there, or how tender they are.

The whole point of Hellebores is that they flower in winter, and they are tough and strong: there is simply no point in buying a "non-hardy" Hellebore, and then trying to wrap it up in fleece against the cold weather!

So I shall continue to advise my Clients against buying anything from the Gold Collection, no matter how luscious they are!


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