Taxonomically a ‘splitter’ creates new categories based on the differences between plants whereas a ‘lumper’ groups plants by their similarities assuming them to be more important than the differences. Mike Byford, National Collection Holder of Helleborus species is on the side of the lumpers.
By taking the polar route from Guildford to Birmingham to visit friends we were able to fit in a trip to Kingsley to see these beauties. Mike’s Collection is laid out in alphabetical order and the differences between and within a species are obvious – even though the season is late this year because of the seriously cold weather.
Three subspecies of Helleborus orientalis
Contained in pots and housed in a poly tunnel are specimens of species from H. abruzzicus to H. viridis: the country of origin is noted on the label – the Mediterranean, Balkans, Turkey and China. Although I had the impression that they needed woodland and moist soil, looking at Mike’s pictures taken when plant hunting, the plants often hail from open, rocky terrains. What they really don’t like is winter wet; in their countries of origin they can withstand the cold as they are usually insulated by a layer of snow.
Species (including a couple of species cultivars)
Many Helleborus species readily cross producing some well-known intersectional hybrids.
As well as the National Collection of species, Mike has a huge range of hybrids, many of which he has bred himself, carefully selecting the parent plants for the desired attributes and tagging the flowers so that the seed can be collected when ripe. In the trade because of the variability in seed grown plants, even when the pollination is carefully controlled, hybrids are often sold as ‘strains’ or ‘groups’ such as Blackthorn or Ballard (after the well-known hellebore breeder, Helen Ballard). Mike sells his hybrids as unique numbered plants and shows the flowers on his website for each individual, so that customers know exactly what they are getting.
Hazles Cross Farm Nursery is well worth a visit – wrap up well and take boots. But if you can’t make it in person, have a look at the Hazles Cross Hybrids on Mike’s website.