In a Hellebore Haven
A visit to Ashwoods Nurseries
In the dark cold days of last February a gardening pal and I formulated a plan to visit Ashwoods Nurseries in Kingswinford in the West Midlands, UK.
Ashwoods hold open days for the public to view the Hellebore breeding programme and this gives exclusive access the nursery area and the growing on glasshouses and the opportunity to purchase plants that are almost, but not quite good enough for further breeding.
We were told by our guide Howard Drury, that just over 10,000 plants are produced each year in pursuit of the very best 20 plants.
All surplus plants are sold to the public either from the shop or via mail order.
It was interesting to be told that what we normally refer to on the flowers as petals are in-fact sepals. The desirable traits of each plant are recorded and the male parent, is taken to the female flower and cross-pollination is done by hand. The female flower is then covered with little net bags to prevent insects or brushing against by people, thus spoiling the potential cross.
I was pleased to note that the little net bags in use were infact wedding favour bags in pretty colours.
When the ovaries of the female flowers swell then this shows a successful cross has occurred.
The seeds are harvested and sown fresh around the end of July in deep pots with a gritty covering, they are left outside until Christmas then bought in under cover.
There then follows 5 months of growing for the seedlings before pricking out the following July into 5 cm pots, then the plants are allowed to grow on for another year before potting on again into 1 litre pots and placing into a large growing house with 10,000 plants. All through this process the plants are selected for desired traits and the ‘rejects’ are sent to the selling house.
We were told that Ashwoods compost of choice is Melcourt Silvapearl for the bigger plants, and currently Clover peat based for the seedlings as there were some rotting issues in the few last years.
Fine bark is added to the compost mixture, not grit, as bark best replicates the natural growing conditions of the Hellebore as being semi woodland, with some shade during the day.
We were told that it’s best to divide Hellebore plants in early spring, well before the leaves develop. And when pruning the leaves off if required, it’s been found that leaving about a centimetre of stem on the plant prevents rotting down into the main part of the plant.
If feeding the plants is required, then it’s best to do it once around September time with. Seaweed based liquid feed to set them up for the following Spring Flowering period.
Hellebore plants appreciate a mulch each autumn, and this is a useful reason to trim off the leaves as it exposes the area around the plant for a more effective mulch coverage.
Our day concluded with us being let loose in the selling greenhouse and an opportunity to make a purchase. I agonised for ages over which flower style to go for, and eventually opted for a dazzling red streaky type.
Purchases made and goods deposited in the car, we made a dash to the cafe for a coffee and warm up as our extremities were quite frozen, I have to say that the cafe was the most organised and coordinated facility I have ever encountered. Everybody got a seat, even on the busy Sunday Lunchtime we were visiting and the staff were extremely helpful and friendly.
Shortly afterwards we set off for home with rosy cheeks, lighter purses and plans for our next planty endeavour.
Please take a moment to read my co-pilots blog on her take on the day. The Blackberry Garden.
Its really rather good.