02 February 2008

Hellebores - a new book by Colston Burrell and Judith Knott Tyler and helpful advice!

written by Colston Burrell and Judith Knott Tyler
Hardcover, 296 pages with 146 color photos
Winner of American Horticultural Society Book Award

From the Timber Press website, "A mere 10 years ago, hellebores were considered connoisseurs' plants — subdued in coloration, hard to find, and the subject of much snobbery."

Oddly enough, even though I still consider myself a novice gardener, I was growing Hellebores 20-years ago.

Also, "Cole Burrell and Judith Tyler have produced what is arguably the definitive book on this genus, packed with up-to-the-minute, comprehensive information on growing, maintenance, design, hybridization and selection, and trouble-shooting."

It would be hard to imagine anyone writing another book about Hellebores for at least a decade to come - this volume is so complete.

What's cool is that Judith Knott Tyler and her husband, Richard Tyler, own Pine Knot Farms, a wholesale and retail nursery specializing in herbaceous perennials, with an emphasis on hellebores. And, Tyler responded to my emails for information specific to growing Hellebores in our area.
Photo: Helleborus x hybridus from Pine Knot Select - These are the variety Judith recommended for our area. If you click over to her website there are lots more.

"An artist by training, Judith channels her creativity into making gardens, layering the forms and textures of plants into living sculptures that change with the seasons. Hellebores fascinate Judith because as she says, "Any plant brave enough to reach its peak flowering time during the dull days of late winter, deserves a place of pride in most gardens. If we consider the wide range of conditions many of the species will tolerate, there is truly a hellebore for almost any garden."

Here are the highlights of our email conversation -
Me: I would like some information about growing Hellebores in our Ozark Plateau, zone 7, northeast Oklahoma. I'd liketo refer readers to specific plants on your site, so if you have time, could you give us some advice? Our average annual rainfall is 44-inches. Average annual temps: 70-days at 90-degrees and above plus 70-days at 32 and below. We have brick plants in the area - lots of clay. We tend to have acidic soil because of an abundance of oak and Loblolly pine trees.

Judith Knott Tyler wrote:
"Without a soil test it's hard to say, but in most areas oak/pine forest are okay. If the soil range is between 5 and 7 ph Helleborus x hybridus should do fine.

I suspect the problem lies with drainage if you can make bricks. We have similar problems with clay, which requires amending with material to increase drainage, bark, gravel and so on. Here we find that planting on a slope helps a great deal with drainage, even if it's a slight slope created at the edge of a bed.

There also may be a problem with plants people use. Many hellebores sold in the US came into the country as bare root plants, get potted up and sold rapidly before they have a chance to root into their pot. These plants rarely make it in the landscape. We sell plants wholesale to Rising Star Plants in Bartlesville OK who grow them on site.

If Oklahoma soils are similar to the plateau off the Appalachian Range around Knoxville or the high plains of Lubbock (very alkaline soil) or Denver CO many species of hellebore should do quite well there.

Helleborus x hybridus, the Lenten Rose has perhaps the widest range of both availability and usage. Once established in well drained soil most hellebores perform admirably in either shade or sun if they can be protected from the killer 2-5 PM western sun.

Your averages seem quite like ours here in Virginia but soil issues can alter how well plants perform.

H. niger is a bit more demanding, especially of soil conditions. The Mediterranean species and hybrids, argutifolius, lividus and H. x sternii seem to enjoy the Denver area from what I have heard from our customers."

CONCLUSION So, site them where they can avoid the afternoon sun in the summer, loosen up the soil to make sure you have good drainage and start with the Helleborus X hybridus.

Happy growing!

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