An expanded version of the article in The Garden (February 2001)
Some superb foliage plants have recently been developed in this group. Until recently the Corsican hellebore, H. argutifolius, has been remarkably stable but here have been a number of recent exceptions. Little Erbert, is a dwarf form reaching only 15in/38cm, due to be introduced by Ashwood Nursery soon, should be invaluable in smaller and exposed gardens and could lead to some new interesting hybrids.
From the United States Pacific Frost and Janet Starnes both feature speckled foliage. Some reports suggest these are almost indistinguishable, others that the latter is less vigorous or more yellow-speckled rather than white speckled or may show pink tinges. Both seem to appreciate a little shade. And last year, RD Plants in Devon introduced Silver Lace, a form with pretty, uniformly pewtery foliage and this has already had wide distribution.
The Majorcan H. lividus, too, is a stable plant. Bring it together with H. argutifolius and the highly variable H. x sternii is the result. Recent stars like Ashwood Strain and Blackthorn Strain are neat and dwarf with prettily silvered foliage. The challenge now is, having created such attractive foliage plants, to improve their hardiness so more gardeners can grow them. In The USA Ive seen plants derived from backcrossing H. lividus on to Ashwood Strain to give dwarf, silver plants with an impressive pink flush but their hardiness is certainly suspect.
Will McLewin is well known for introducing some fine forms of H. foetidus from the wild. More recently Hopleys Plants introduced Chedglow, discovered by Martin Cragg-Barber, with yellow foliage although I found this rather a weak plant. It has now been joined by Gold Bullion, raised by Ray Brown at Plant World in Devon, also derived from plants originating with Martin Cragg-Barber and which seems identical, though more vigorous.
Crossing these yellow leaved forms with red stemmed forms like Wester Flisk could lead to the development of spectacular foliage plants with the vigour to thrive in the garden.
In the USA Piccadilly, originating at Pine Knot Farms in Virginia, has prettily sheened, black-green foliage and whitish-green flowers with reddish markings on the flower stem and leaf axils. Northwest Garden Nursery at Eugene, Oregon have crossed the silvered Sopron and with red tinted Wester Flisk and created Red Silver, with the main features of both. Barry Glick has introduced Marlene, with unusually lacy foliage, and Silvertooth with dramatic silvery leaves.
Doubles and anemone-centred forms
Niger and its hybrids
Hellebores in North America