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.