Phoenix Perennials and Specialty Plants


The Phoenix Perennials E-Newsletter
February 2008

Hello from Phoenix Perennials!

It's here, fellow gardeners, the Hellebore Hurrah! Mark your calendars, cancel all of your appointments, call your friends and come on down. We have prepared for you a sumptuous feast of colour and spring bliss. This will be the last big year with the Heronswood Hellebores. Come see what they can be. In addition to the one gallon pots we've got a bunch of them in huge three gallon pots brimming with giant plants in full glorious bloom. At the Hurrah! this year you'll also get a taste of hellebores from other breeders and from Mother Nature.

The second article in the e-newsletter is all about hellebores. There is a discussion of the difference between seed strains and tissue cultured cultivars, a description of the three main forms of hellebore flowers (singles, doubles and anemone centres), and an explanation of the pricing of our hellebores at the Hellebore Hurrah!

Also in the e-newsletter we announce the winner of a workshop for two during the 2008 season which was randomly drawn from the respondents to our question of what would you like to learn in 2008. There is also a note on two upcoming talks I'll be giving at the BC Home and Garden Show.

Cheers, Gary and the Phoenicians

In this Issue

1. The Hellebore Hurrah!: Celebrating early spring and all things Hellebore
2. A Few Notes on Selecting Hellebores
3. Workshops 2008: What Do You Want to Learn? Contest Winner
4. Gary Speaking at the BC Home and Garden Show


Opening Weekend
The Hellebore Hurrah!
Celebrating early spring and all things Hellebore

February 22nd, 23rd and 24th, 2008
(Note: This is one week earlier than last year.)

It keeps getting better and better, fellow hellebore enthusiasts. There are times for modesty but this isn't one of them!

Brace yourselves for what very well could be the largest and most exciting selection of hellebores ever offered in Canada!

This year we bring you once again a great selection of Heronswood Hellebores (we were able to secure plants for one more year). We also bring you choice plants from two different hellebore specialists, Pine Knot Farms and the reigning queen of the hellebore, Marietta O'Byrne. For the extra sophisticated among you we will also offer a selection of rare and uncommon species hellebores as young plants. Mark your calendars! You won't want to miss this weekend!

Here are most of the hellebores that will be offered at the Hurrah!


The Heronswood Hellebores

Heronswood Double White Strain - Pure white double flowers and lush, mid green foliage. Elegant and beguiling.

'Kingston Cardinal' - Luscious raspberry-red flowers atop red stems with burgundy-infused young foliage. Heart-stopping, mind-blowing, plant-lusting spectacular! Tissue cultured so every plant is identical.

Heronswood Double Pink Strain - Perfect in pink. Lovely double pink flowers and lush, dark green foliage.


Heronswood Double Purple Strain - Rich, warm purple, double flowers with burgundy-infused stems and foliage.


Heronswood Single Purple Strain - Dark, rich, warm purple flowers. Burgundy-infused foliage.

Heronswood Single Maroon Strain - Dark, brooding, and fantastic, rich maroon flowers, some with creamy yellow central highlights and dark nectaries. Burgundy-infused foliage.


Heronswood Single Apricot Strain - Unique sunset tones with shades of pink, peach, yellow and cream changing as the flowers age.

Heronswood Single Red Strain - Big, bold red flowers with amazing intensity of colour. Burgundy-infused foliage.

Heronswood Single Yellow Strain - Pale to buttery yellow single flowers, some with clear petals, others with red spots.


Heronswood Slate Strain - My favourite. Dark purple-blue flowers with a slate sheen. You have to see it to believe it. And just to send you right over the edge: the leaflets on the flowering stems are the same slate-black colour as the flowers! Oh my!


The Other Heronswood Singles - Pink and White - Big flowers, clear colours, robust plants.


'Gold Finch' - Broadly rounded petals of soft green-yellow spotted with multitudes of tiny red ochre flecks, centered with a deeper lime green. Pairs beautifully with red-flowered hellebores like Heronswood Single Red and 'Kingston Cardinal' which helps to accentuate 'Gold Finch's' beautiful spots. Tissue cultured so every plant is identical.


'Snow White'/'Snow Bunting' - This Heronswood cultivar has pure white flowers with pointed tips over rich dark green foliage. Tissue cultured so every plant is identical.


H. x nigercors 'Green Heron' - This Heronswood hybrid between H. niger and H. argutifolius will lighten even the dark corners of the garden with large white flowers with lime and emerald highlights. Dark green leathery foliage. Tissue cultured so every plant is identical.


Marietta O'Byrne's Hellebores

Marietta O'Byrne is considered one of the best Hellebore hybridizers in the world. We are pleased to be one of the first nurseries in Canada to offer her handiwork. These plants are still young and should flower for the first time in 2009.

Helleborus Mellow Yellow Strain - This wonderful group of single yellows will sometimes offer up the occasional apricot surprise. Some are splashed with spots and others have picotee edges. The colour in this image may be slightly darker than real life but as one of the best breeders in the world her yellows are still among the best available at this point in hellebore breeding.


Helleborus Brushstrokes Strain - Brushstroke splashes, spots, and true, rich colours adorn the wide petals of this superior group.


Helleborus Ballerina/Regal Ruffles Strain - This double strain offers every colour imaginable with picotees, splashed forms, and the rich colours that are Marietta's trademark. The plants we offer will bloom for the first time in 2009. The percentage of plants that will have double flowers will be in the 90's but, because this is a strain, not all will turn out double. There is a small chance that you may end up with a very special single. We cannot guarantee double flowers.


The Pine Knot Farm Hellebores

Helleborus Southern Belles Strain - This beautiful strain is derived from hand pollinating the best double and semi-double (anemone centred) plants in a full range of colours at Pine Knot Farms in Virginia. Double crosses come 90-95% true and semi-double 75% true. This means a small percentage of plants will turn out to be single once they reach blooming size. Unfortunately, we cannot guarantee double or semi-double plants as this is the nature of seed strains but the gamble has good odds that you’ll get a real treasure!


Helleborus 'Winter Dreams Black' - Luscious is the best word to describe this exciting cultivar. The single flowers are deepest purple black held above foliage that emerges with rich tones of burgundy. Tissue cultured so all plants will be identical.


Species Hellebores by Mother Nature

Imagine these charming plants growing in their native habitats in the wild fields, forests and mountains of Mediterranean Europe. These are where our hybrid hellebores come from, usually derived from complex crosses of multiple species. Most of these plants are small and in four inch pots. They will bloom in 2009 (or 2010) with good TLC.


H. lividus 'Elegance' - 'Elegance' is a new selection of the uncommon H. lividus, a less hardy species than the other hellebores which should still do well in our relatively benign climate (it is hardy in zone 8). The gorgeous glossy green leaves are highlighted with creamy silver veins and held up by pinkish purple leaf stalks. Long purplish green stems bear bowl-shaped creamy green flowers with a mauve-pink blush. In all quite a little plant treasure. In bloom this year.


H. atrorubens - Dark green basal foliage with stems and foliage often suffused with purple when young. The flowers are outward facing, saucer-shaped, and usually deep purple with green shadings within. Less showy than the colourful hybrids but demure and elegant in its own right. This species hails from a small area in Slovenia and northern Croatia where it grows with H. dumetorum.


H. croaticus - This hellebore is described as the “third of the purple flowered species.” Only two were known until 1973 when H. croaticus was discovered. It is rare in cultivation as well as in the wild occuring only in northeast Croatia. This species has purple flowers with green highlights and is similar to H. atrorubens . The plants are relatively large and lush. The leaves can be fairly dissected offering a larger number of lobes and hence a subtly more interesting foliage effect than the hybrids.


H. dumetorum - This rare species has charming pale green flowers on robust clumps of lush foliage. It is a strong grower, useful in the landscape and demure in the woodland garden. It occurs in Slovenia, western Hungary, southwest Austria, northern Croatia, and probably parts of Romania.


H. multifidus - This beautiful and uncommon hellebore, similar to and often confused with H. torquatus, is much loved by those who know it for its numerous narrow divided leaflets. A good clump looks like a mini oasis of palm trees! The flowers are green and look lovely held above or peaking out of the foliage. Also intriguing: its native habitat suggests that H. multifidus will likely do well in the drier, hotter, sunnier spots of your garden. Croatia, Hercegovina, and possibly Albania.


H. odorus - The most vigorous of the green flowered species hellebores, H. odorus lives up to its name with fragrant two to three inch saucer-shaped outward facing flowers. Fragrance can vary from plant to plant and depends on the warmth of the day. From central Europe.


H. purpurascens - This deciduous hellebore is a wonderful ornamental species for the shade or woodland garden. The large flowers are colourful ranging from reddish purple to greenish brown often with pink, blue or slate tones mixed in. The leafy bracts might also have burgundy tones. Native to Romania, Hungary, eastern Czechoslovakia, Poland, and the Ukraine.


H. torquatus - This is a controversial 'species' botanically and may in future get swallowed by H. multifidus (to which it is very similar) or get renamed as its relationship to other species becomes better understood. Taxonomy aside this is a fabulous foliage plant with many multipley divided leaflets. The flower colour ranges from deep purple to green with many combinations in between. Slow to bulk up so plant in part sun and rich soil. Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia, Montenegro.


H. viridis - This rare species makes an attractive garden plant. It is a larger hellebore with good lush growth and a similar habit to H. purpurascens. The flowers, as its name suggests, are apple green and present a subtle beauty in the shade garden. H. viridis occurs in a more westerly range than many of the other species in Austria, northern Italy, southern Germany, Switzerland, and France.


Other Hellebores

'Ivory Prince' - This vigorous hybrid hellebore offers at least two and a half months of floral interest followed by a whole year of great foliage. In February the plump pink buds develop. By March the flowers open to reveal large creamy petals with dusky pink reverses and green centres. By April the cream colour deepens to green and dusty rose. The leathery evergreen foliage is subtly mottled and held aloft by red stems.


H. x nigercors 'White Beauty' - White and creamy white flowers become green with age and are held over lush, leathery dark green foliage.

H. x ericsmithii 'Pink Beauty' - A vigorous cultivar similar to 'Ivory Prince' with white flowers flushed with dusty rose as they age. Vigorous and floriferous, plants quickly establish and soon can produce over 100 flowers.


H. argutifolius 'Silver Lace' - This stunning cultivar of the already dramatic Corsican hellebore has beautiful silver leaves. Lovely cup-shaped, apple-green flowers top the stems and foliage in early spring brightening even the gloomiest days of March.


H. x sternii 'Hot Flash' - Silvered and red veined, this outstanding evergreen Hellebore sports deeply serrate edges and red stems to create a colourful package! Blooms in late winter to early spring with pale green flowers blushed with pink.


Helleborus Mrs. Betty Ranicar Strain - This stunning, heavily double, snow white hellebore strain is very special, extremely vigorous and floriferous (up to 100 blooms on a mature plant). ‘Mrs. Betty’ was found by chance in a garden in Tasmania and named after a fine Tasmanian plantswoman. Usually more than 95% double.


Helleborus Royal Heritage Strain - This hellebore strain offers a wide range of sumptuous colors (purple, red, near-black, white, green, pink and even yellow) captured by 2-inch flowers with overlapping petals. The flowers may also have spotting and picotee edges. Priced at the lower end of the hellebore price scale, the Royal Heritage Strain is great for mass plantings or when your budget can't quite keep up with your enthusiasm!


Helleborus Double Vision Strain - This lovely strain offers a lower percentage of doubled hellebores than some strains but a better chance of getting an anemone-centred flower with clusters of small petals held within a cup of five petals (see the explanation in the next article below), a rarer occurrence than even a double hellebore! Plants from this strain turn out 1/3 double, 1/3 anemone-centred, and 1/3 single. We cannot guarantee the flower form of unbloomed plants.

See you at the Hellebore Hurrah! for these and a few more surprises!


Can't Make It?: If you are unable to attend the Hellebore Hurrah! there will certainly be more hellebores available afterwards. If you would like to make sure you acquire a desired plant(s) you can call the nursery between February 11th and February 21st and give us your order, your credit card information and your sworn affidavit that you really will not be able to make it that weekend. We will select a nice specimen(s) for you and hold it until you can pick it up.

Because the first day of the Hurrah! is a Friday and many people have to work we will hold back a quantity of the more rare plants for Saturday so that they will be available on both Friday and Saturday.


A Few Notes on Selecting Hellebores

Strains versus Cultivars

Traditionally every hellebore offered has been derived from seed strains since hellebores bulk up slowly and resent being divided. Seed strains are carefully bred lines that are maintained over time to assure as much uniformity as possible in selected characterisitics which include flower and foliage colour, flower size, flower set, degree of doubling, petal shape, petal spotting and picoteeing (having a darker edge), colour of the nectaries, habit, vigour, and height. For instance, the Heronswood Slate strain was bred to maintain deep purple flowers with a satiny sheen, foliage with similar dark tones and great vigour. Less specific in nature, the Royal Heritage strain is a quite varied strain bred to offer a wide range of colours with flowers that are more outward (rather than downward) facing.

Different strains have been bred with different qualities of genetic material as starting points and differing levels of attention and skill from their breeders. Consequently, not all strains are created equal. The Heronswood Hellebores, for instance, are bred to extremely high standards while the Royal Heritage strain is bred to more average standards. Compare the three gallon Heronswood singles to the three gallon Royal Heritage plants at the Hellebore Hurrah! and you will quickly understand the difference. The Royal Heritage plants are good quality and offer value for the money but the Heronswood plants are outstanding.

Despite breeders' efforts, hellebores are complicated. They are hybrids of numerous wild species so their genetics, and hence their breeding, are difficult to understand. Consequently, and magically, no two hellebores derived from a seed strain are the same. When selecting from a strain you should compare the plants and their flowers to find the individual(s) that you most love! They are all different and all have their own particular charms. However, do remember that if you purchase a plant that is not in flower it is impossible to know exactly what you will get!

More recently, diligent labs have finally discovered how to micropropagate or tissue culture hellebores. The resulting plants are all identical. The very best plants from the best breeders are now being selected for larger scale production. This means that special plants that never would have left the breeders' or their close friends' private gardens are now becoming available to the general public. Even if these cultivars are not in flower you will know exactly what the blooms will look like when your plant reaches maturity. Tissue cultured cultivars take away a bit of the magic of finding your very own gem but they will all be outstanding plants.

To differentiate between hellebores derived from these two different methods of propagation we use the correct botanical formatting when possible to differentiate between these two groups of hellebores. In the case of the seed strains we have also added the word "strain" to each plant. For instance, the seed strains are written as Helleborus Mrs. Betty Ranicar Strain. Cultivars produced through tissue cultivar will have their names surrounded by single quotes as in Helleborus 'Kingston Cardinal'.

Singles, Doubles and Anemone Centres

Though superficially the single hellebore flower looks like a normal flower, it's actually a bit different. What we think of as the five hellebore petals -- the colourful white, pink, red, purple, near-black or yellow structures that get us most excited about these plants -- are actually the sepals, which on most other plants are green and protect the petals. The petals of hellebores are actually very small green, yellow, burgundy or black structures that form a ring around the stamens. In this case they are called nectaries and are important for attracting pollinating insects. Note the ring of green nectaries in the image on the right.

It is fortuitous for us as gardeners that the colourful part of the hellebore flower is the sepal. If you think about flowers in general, the petals usually have a short lifespan while the sepals can last for months and sometimes are even present on the fruits, as with roses and rose hips. The long-lived sepals of hellebores are what gives us the months of colour that we so appreciate.

Double hellebore flowers occur when the nectaries become petaloid and take on the same colour as the sepals (unlike in most other double flowers where the stamens and pistils become petaloid and the plant is infertile). The form of the double hellebore flower usually consists of the five sepals which cup a number of smaller, usually pointed and more numerous petals. Anemone centred flowers occur when the nectaries become partially petaloid, take on the colour of the sepals and surround the stamens like a ruffly ring of baby petals as in the picture at right.

Single petalled plants are the most common since this is the natural form of the hellebore flower. Doubles seem to be the second most common and anemone-centred flowers the most rare. Perhaps this is due to the greater interest in double flowers, though crosses of anemone-centred plants tend to produce a lower percentage of anemone-centred offspring than similar crosses with double flowered plants that produce double flowered offspring. Let's just say that to have a double flowered hellebore is rare and special. To have an anemone centred plant is even more uncommon. Look for them at the Hellebore Hurrah! There are some mixed in here and there.


Appropriate and fair pricing is very important to us at Phoenix Perennials. Unfortunately, plant lust doesn't always come cheap. We have attempted to source the highest quality hellebores available from some of the best breeders in the world. These plants should exhibit great vigour, larger flowers, and bold colours. However, owing to their lofty parentage, high and labour intensive standards of breeding, and the necessity of importing these hellebores from far away places, and the length of time -- often a number of years -- to bring hellebores into bloom, their prices are higher than the average.

As an example of pricing, while a regular (single) hellebore is usually priced around $15, the Heronswood single hellebores will be priced in the mid thirties. Doubles are extremely rare and always expensive. The Heronswood doubles will be priced in the mid to high forties for a one gallon pot. We trust that when you see them at the nursery and grow them in your gardens you'll understand the difference between regular hellebores and these superb horticultural treasures. That being said, there are still treasures to be found even in the more modestly priced strains. Keep your eyes open and, like a busy bee, visit every flower!



Workshops 2008
What Do You Want to Learn?
Contest Winner

Last month we asked for your suggestions of what you wanted to learn from our Phoenix Perennials workshops in 2008. We randomly selected a name from all of our respondents and...

The Winner of
Attendance for You and a Friend in Any Workshop of Your Choice in 2008 is

Anne K.

Thank you everyone for participating and giving us your ideas!

Watch for our line up of workshops in an upcoming e-newsletter!


Gary Speaking at the BC Home and Garden Show

Avoiding the Summer Doldrums
Great Plants for High Summer and Early Fall
with Phoenix Perennials owner Gary Lewis

Does your garden look a little tired through the summer months? Here's a whole raft of plants to get your summer garden sizzling with colour. Gary Lewis will present a stunning, image-rich Power Point presentation to illustrate the many options for the high summer garden.

Wednesday, February 20th, 7:30 pm
Friday, February 22nd, 4:30 pm

BC Place Stadium, Vancouver


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Word of mouth has been such an important part of our success and growth at Phoenix Perennials. Thank you to everyone who has told their friends about us and thank you in advance for continuing to introduce new people to our nursery! We couldn't do it without your kind patronage and support!

If you have any other questions please contact us at

Phoenix Perennials and Specialty Plants Ltd.
One of the largest and most exciting selections of perennials in the Lower Mainland.
Specializing in distinct perennials, fragrant shrubs, hardy subtropicals and the botanically intriguing.
3380 No. 6 Road, Richmond (Between Bridgeport and Cambie)

Please visit our web page for information on the nursery, driving directions and a map.
We are near the south end of the Knight Street Bridge and very easy to get to from all of the surrounding municipalities and beyond.

Seven Days a Week 10am-5pm
February 22nd, 2008 through October 31st, 2008

Copyright Phoenix Perennials and Specialty Plants Ltd. 2008

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