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Graham Rice's New Plants Blog

Graham Rice Garden writer and plantsman Northamptonshire and Pennsylvania

Editor-in-Chief of the RHS Encyclopedia of Perennials; writer for a wide range of newspapers and magazines including The Garden and The Plantsman; member of the RHS Herbaceous Plant Committee and Floral Trials Committee; author of many books on plants and gardens.

  • Date Joined: 18 Oct 2006

Recent Comments

The Holy Grail of hellebores!

Posted by Graham Rice on 30 Aug 2008 at 03:06 PM

A hybrid between Helleborus niger and H. orientalis has recently been announced - and this time it really does sound like the real thing. A hybrid between these two species has been claimed before, there even used to be a plant at Kew behind a label which claimed it was such a hybrid. But no. Not until now.

It's called ‘Walberton's Rosemary' and I confess I would have been suspicious if I hadn't known who raised it. But it comes from the highly respected plant breeder David Tristram - whose father was instrumental in the creation of the legendary Helleborus niger ‘Potter's Wheel'.

This is what he told me:

"I've tried for years (rather as one buys lottery tickets!) crossing H. niger x H. orientalis both ways, using both white spotted and red orientalis selections (of my own) crossed with ‘Potters Wheel' selections that I'd worked on for many years. I was looking, of course, for large well presented uprightish flowers.  I never got any joy until suddenly in 2000 this one came up which is quite unique in my experience. I don't think I did anything unusual. Naturally I've been trying again to produce other ones but without any more such luck."

So what convinced him that this really is a cross between the two species?

"The two reasons for my claim that it really IS H. niger x H. orientalis this time are: (1) that that is what I was trying to do; and, more importantly, (2) that it seems to me to be intermediate in virtually all its leaf and flower characteristics, except of course for its enormous flower production and complete sterility in which it differs from either parent."

As you can see from the pictures (click on each to enlarge it), the pink flowers are gorgeous. opening pink on the backs and paler inside then fading to rich rose pink inside and out. It's obvious from the picture how prolific this is.

Helleborus ‘Walberton's Rosemary' will available in good garden centres across the country in January and February 2009.

PS OK... to be fair... a white-flowered hybrid between these two species occurred by chance in Japan in the late 1990s. It's called ‘Snow Queen' and although it's available in the USA, it has not been available here. And certainly not from garden centres.



Phot's-Moll said:

It is lovely.

AS it's sterile, will the flowers last even longer than usual?

on 31 Aug 2008 at 05:03 PM

Graham Rice said:

Yes! You're right... And as you can see from the picture, the old flowers seem to stay pink for a long while.

on 01 Sep 2008 at 01:04 AM

Dermot said:

But is it really a hybrid? Can you prove it? Or is it just a nice pink hellebore?

on 02 Sep 2008 at 02:30 PM

Graham Spencer, Plants For Europe Ltd said:

I've had the good fortune to be closely involved in the commercial development of this variety with David Tristram. One of the characteristics that Graham doesn't mention about this plant is that it begins flowering much earlier than orientalis types - the first flowers open in early December and continue well into early spring. The flowers almost become a ruby colour as they age, although they are quite a light pink when they first open, and the quantity of flower is astounding. It really is exceptional.

on 04 Sep 2008 at 10:15 AM

Graham Rice said:

Thanks, Graham, David didn't mention that it flowers so early - that's why I didn't include that valuable feature in my post!  And Dermot... Leaves are being sent off for genetic analysis this week. As soon as the results come back, I'll let everyone know.

on 08 Sep 2008 at 10:29 PM

Graham Rice said:

I've now seen the plant in the flesh - and the foliage certainly looks intermediate between H. niger and H. orientalis.  I can't wait for my plant to flower...

on 25 Sep 2008 at 04:45 PM