Clematis Phoenix Perennials and Specialty Plants

E-Newsletter: February 2009


The Phoenix Perennials E-Newsletter
February 2009

Hello from Phoenix Perennials!

Hellebores = Hope

What a winter! Is it over yet? It might not be but let's hope. Hope is the general theme for this e-newsletter and I think for February in general. As I pass by my garden beds the hellebores are up four, six, eight inches now and in bud. Winter must be coming to an end and spring must be right around the corner. A hellebore would never lie!

To provide all of you with hope our annual special opening weekend The Hellebore Hurrah! is just around the corner. We are so proud of this weekend, of the plants and of its popularity. If you haven't been before, come see what a few thousand hellebores can do to lift your spirits. If you have been before you know exactly what to expect - only it's going to be better this year than ever. Really. Mark your calendars, fellow gardeners, for the gardening event of the season!

In this issue you'll find information on the Hellebore Hurrah!, a new downloadable catalogue filled with descriptions and images of all of our hellebores, and an article on selecting hellebores.

You will also find information on my speaking engagements, a call for applications for our Charity Shopping Weekends, and information on the upcoming UBC Botanical Garden Collectors' Plant Auction.

See you at the Hellebore Hurrah!

Cheers, Gary and the Phoenicians

PS. Watch for our new workshop offerings in the next e-newsletter in early March!

In this Issue

1. The Hellebore Hurrah!: Celebrating early spring and all things Hellebore
2. A Few Notes on Selecting Hellebores
3. New Phoenix Perennials Collectible T-Shirt for 2009
4. Gary's Speaking Engagements for February
5. Charity Shopping Weekends: Call for Applications
6. UBC Botanical Garden Collectors' Plant Auction


Opening Weekend 2009
The Hellebore Hurrah!
Celebrating early spring and all things Hellebore

February 27th, 28th and March 1st, 2009

Brace yourselves for one of the largest and most exciting selections of hellebores ever offered in North America!

This year we bring you almost 80 different species, cultivars and strains of hellebores sourced from some of the best breeders in North America and around the world. Some of the most exciting plants will come from the reigning queen of the hellebore, Marietta O'Byrne. We also bring you choice plants from three other hellebore specialists, Pine Knot Farms, Charles Price breeder and garden designer of Seattle Washington, and Heronswood Nursery. 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!

The Hellebore Hurrah! Catalogue 2009

New this year we bring you a full list complete with colour images and descriptions of the hellebores on offer at this year's Hellebore Hurrah!


The catalogue is in pdf format and is 4 megabytes in size. Click on the link to download the file and save it on your computer. You will need the Adobe Acrobat Reader to view it which you can download for free from the Adobe Site. Then view the catalogue on your computer or print it off for detailed study and pre-shopping.

Mark your calendars! And tell all your friends.
Friends don't let friends miss the Hellebore Hurrah!

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 16th and February 26th 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. Do keep in mind that hellebores are a great investment for your garden. They provide colour in the garden for two to three months when you most need it and they will be with you for decades as they are a really long-lived perennial.

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!



New Phoenix Perennials Collectible T-Shirt
"I can only have one husband but as many flowers as I want!"

Welcome to our second offering of Phoenix Wear!

This high quality tee is black with embroidered text in light purple. They will cost a reasonable $17.99. They are great for gardening, plant shopping, going to garden group meetings, and for reminding your spouse about your rights!

Our t-shirts will be arriving at the nursery in time for the Hellebore Hurrah! They will be available in various sizes S, M, L, XL.

Also available, our 2008 t-shirt: There are worse addictions than plants!




Upcoming Speaking Engagements
by Phoenix Perennials Owner Gary Lewis

These talks are open to the public. There may be an entrance fee to these events and garden group meetings. It would be great to see you there!

Weird and Wonderful Plants of the World: Botanically Intriguing Options for Your Garden
Join Gary Lewis, owner of Phoenix Perennials, for a whirlwind trip around the world to discover a multitude of weird and wonderful plants to add botanical intrigue to your garden. In this colourful, image-rich and dynamic Power Point presentation you'll discover amazing plants from every continent (except Antarctica!) including Cobra Lilies from Asia, acacias and bottlebrushes from Australia, broadleaf pokers from South Africa, orchids from North America and much more.

Northest Flower & Garden Show
Wednesday February 18th, 5pm, Hood Room
Avoiding the Summer Doldrums:
Great Plants for High Summer and Early Fall

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.
Northest Flower & Garden Show
Thursday February 19th, 5pm, Hood Room
Weird and Wonderful Plants of the World: Botanically Intriguing Options for Your Garden
[See description above.]

BC Home and Garden Show
BC Place Stadium Vancouver

Saturday, Feb. 20th, 4pm
Sunday Feb. 21st,

Among Kangaroo Paws and Grass Trees: The incredible spring flora of Western Australia *New Talk for 2009!*
Join Gary for a trip Down Under to explore an out of this world flora you have likely never even dreamed of – a world of Banksias and featherflowers, Donkey orchids and Spider orchids, eucalypts and myrtles and, of course, kangaroo paws and grass trees. In this talk you’ll see wonderful photography from his recent trip as well as learn about why this area of the world is considered a biodiversity “hot spot.”

Richmond Garden Club
Minoru Pavilion Richmond
Wednesday Feb. 25th, 7:45pm



Charity Shopping Weekends 2009
Call for Applications

We are currently accepting applications from charitable organizations who would be interested in participating in our Charity Shopping Weekends program.

Charity Shopping Weekends are a way for Phoenix Perennials to give back to the community while helping to introduce gardeners to our nursery. Each month one charity will be selected to participate in a Weekend. During that Saturday and Sunday 25% of each purchase made by a customer who tells us they are there for that charity's Weekend will be donated to the charity. In the last four years we have raised over $5000 for 14 different local charities.

The charity that can benefit most from a Charity Shopping Weekend is one with a base of supporters that can be easily (and cheaply) contacted and mobilized.

If you are involved with or know of a charity that is looking for fundraising opportunities, please forward this information to them and have them contact us if they are interested at or at 604-270-4133. We will then forward them an application form.

The participating charity will be announced each month in the E-Newsletter. If you would like to support that charity (or are looking for ways to justify your hortaholic tendencies), consider doing some shopping on the Charity Shopping Weekends.


The UBC Botanical Garden
Collectors' Plant Auction 2009
April 23rd, 2009

Phoenix Perennials is proud to again be a corporate sponsor of this exciting and worthwhile fundraising event for the garden. The organizers will have a booth set up at the Hellebore Hurrah! weekend for those interested in the event.

Over four hundred exciting trees, shrubs, perennials and alpines are offered in silent and live auctions throughout the evening. This is a unique opportunity to acquire rare and specimen plants, some of which grow in UBC Botanical Garden. Many individual plant collectors, nurseries and other botanical gardens are generously supporting this event through donations of choice and difficult-to-obtain plants. In addition to these gorgeous plants, an array of fabulous live and silent auction merchandise and services for all the gala goers to bid on will be available.

Not just an auction, this is a gala evening of food, wine and music, combined with a unique opportunity to acquire rare plants and to support the garden and its research.

While enjoying live entertainment and a delicious hot and cold appetizer buffet, gardeners can shop for all their new garden “upgrades” while supporting the Botanical Garden. Net proceeds from the 2009 evening will support the completion of the Garry Oak Meadow and Woodland (Phase 1) This project requires significant funds to complete and maintain. The success of this event is important for both the overall development of the garden and its research.

For more information:


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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 27th through November 1st, 2009

Copyright Phoenix Perennials and Specialty Plants Ltd. 2009

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