Alpine Garden Society

Ulster Group

Plant of the Month, March 2006

Helleborus thibetanus  by Bob Gordon

It is over 30 years since I bought my first hellebores from Jack Drake’s nursery in Inshriach.  These plants have become mature specimens and give a magnificent performance year after year, with a minimum of attention.  As with hellebores in general, the performance can last from 10 to 12 weeks. At present they are having a period of great popularity, and are indeed much sought after, particularly the orientalis hybrids or as they are now known Helleborus x hybridus.

The genus helleborus goes back into antiquity - but not the plant here illustrated, Helleborus thibetanus, which was introduced into cultivation in the early 90’s. It now seems to be firmly established in the collections of hellebore addicts.

This dwarf Chinese species was discovered by Père David over 120 years ago, and from his diaries it was learned where several colonies were growing in the Moupin area of Sichuan Province. Seeds and plant material in limited amounts became available about 1991.

My first plant of this species was obtained about seven years ago, and planted out into a semi-shaded border, perhaps on the dry side in summer. The demise of the plant was a great disappointment, and whether it was the dryish growing conditions or late frost the following spring I cannot be sure. In the meantime I learned that Helleborus thibetanus was to be found growing in scrub in damp rocky clearings and often shaded by Matteucia struthiopteris, Astilbes and Hemerocallis.

I was fortunate to get another plant in March 2003.  This time, as it was a very small plant, I decided to start it off in a pot, using a mixture of equal parts leafmould, good loam and grit with a sprinkling of bone meal, not forgetting a plentiful supply of water during the growing season. In May 2003 it was potted on, and again In September 2004.

Depending on the season the fat pinkish/purple buds can appear late November/December, and the pink saucer of bell-shaped flowers follow late January/February and into March. The leaves are pedately divided into 7 to 10 segments each edged with saw like teeth. By July the plant has gone into dormancy.