Why a Blue Tit?
Italian arums – fantastic late foliage

Holiday garden books – 3: Hellebores

Helleborescbjtslant Having written two books on hellebores myself, I'm well placed to assess a new book on these essential winter and spring flowers by other writers and I have to say that Hellebores C. Colston Burrell and Judith Knot Tyler is invaluable.

Thirteen years have passed since my book on hellebores (see below left), written with pioneering hellebore breeder Elizabeth Strangman, was published during which time their development has been rapid and their popularity has grown enormously. This excellent American book, by a leading hellebore breeder and a leading garden writer, brings us up to date.

Grounded in a thorough treatment of the wild species based on studies in the wild and cultivation in gardens, their coverage reflects the latest thinking. The descriptions are clear, thorough and not obscured by too much technical language.

The increasing number of hybrids between species, some extremely surprising, are discussed and illustrated while the treatment of the vast variety of forms of H. x hybridus steers a commendably realistic course. There is no long descriptive list of cultivars, so few of which are actually available. Instead there are fascinating accounts of the work of a range of breeders and growers from both sides of the Atlantic. Readers will be impressed by recent achievements in North America building on earlier work in Britain. This generous inclination to recognize the work of other enthusiasts on both sides of the Atlantic is a striking feature of the whole book.

There are chapters on practicalities, advice on breeding and two hellebore problems are specifically addressed which have long provoked questions – “black death” disease, and cutting hellebores for the house. New research outlines how best to treat cut hellebores and for the first time clearly identifies the cause of the notorious “black death” and suggests preventative measures.

This comprehensive yet highly readable book, taking our knowledge of all aspects of hellebores a significant step further, is well illustrated by thoughtfully chosen shots of plants in the wild, in gardens, of selected cut flowers and foliage, and of practical matters. It being American in origin should not deter British readers, and American readers at last have their very own hellebore book. Indeed every hellebore enthusiast needs this book – and doesn’t that cover most gardeners? You can order Hellebores in North America here, and in Britain here.

[A version of this review appeared previously in The Garden magazine.]

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