My Plant of the Centenary – Ashwood Hellebores.


In response to the RHS’s attempt to find the plant of the centenary as part of its celebrations of 100 years of the Chelsea Flower Show VP has challenged garden bloggers to post about their plant of the centenary.

Not as easy as it may seem.  I started thinking about my favourite plants: primulas, delphiniums, foxgloves,  hellebores, epimediums, erythoniums.  However, I quickly realised that few if any of these had been introduced in the last 100 years.  Foxgloves and Primulas could be classed as native to England although that raises a whole host of questions since our real native floral is quite small and the wealth of plants that grow wildly on this island is due to the various early invaders and later plant hunters. Delphinium elatum, which is one of the forerunner of the delphiniums we grow in our borders, was introduced back in 1578 so again a non-runner.  Erythronium americanum was introduced in 1665, which seems very early considering they are still not widely grown in gardens and Epimediums were introduced around 15o years ago so not quite in the time frame and although I love them I  don’t think they would rate as my plant of the century.


The other problem with deciding on plants introduced in the last 100 years is that it seems to me that this hasn’t been the greatest period  of plant hunting especially compared to the 19th and 18th century efforts.  China was closed to most plant hunters as part of the cultural revolution and only re-opened in the last 20 years and the two World Wars would also have had an effect.  I could have considered one of the many  prairie plants such as echinacea and salvias that have become so popular as a result of the Dutch prairie planting style which has dominated horticulture in recent years.  However although this style is hugely popular at the moment I really don’t believe that in 100 years time many of these plants will be as popular in our gardens.


So I went back to my original list  of plants I love and thought about those that were hugely popular and which I thought would continue to be popular with gardeners well into the future.  Hellebores stood out for me as a real  plant of the moment and one which I think will go from strength to strength in the future – I even think they might start to attract the same sort of fascination and collecting as snowdrops do.  In particular I would like to nominate the Ashwood Nursery hellebores.

Ashwood started breeding hellebores some 20 years ago.  John Massey’s first step was to visit all the well known hellebore breeders and collect stock plants from them.  This included Helen Ballard, whose nursery was only over the hill from me, and who introduced Helleborus orientalis ‘Helen Ballard’ in 1975.  Having visited Ashwood Nurseries in January to learn about hellebores I was blown away by variety available not only colour, but doubles, stripped, spotted etc.  Ashwoods are now exporting to Japan and I think this is a fascinating development given the  UK’s tradition of bringing plants from abroad to this country.


So for me Ashwood Hellebores are my plant of the century – they are hardy, flower at a quiet  time of the year, reliable and have a wide variety.  Not only that passionate gardeners can have a go at creating their own varieties – what more could you ask for.

Oh but then again there are Barnhaven Primulas which have been breeding primulas since the 1930s – no! I will stick with my first choice, well….

For other garden bloggers Plants of the Centenary visit Veg Plotting

Note: if you are interested in the introduction of plants to Britain you might find  ‘The Origin of Plants’ by Maggie Campbell-Culver interesting.

21 Comments on “My Plant of the Centenary – Ashwood Hellebores.

  1. Helen, what a brilliant choice! I would have to agree that this plant has developed hugely in the last 100 years, indeed the last twenty years. I think this might be hard to beat as a choice, and you obviously did a lot of research. Christina

  2. I think you have made a wonderful choice Helen, hellebores these days have come on in leaps and bounds and will continue as people breed even more wonderful plants. I can’t think of any other plant that has become so necessary for providing interest in our gardens.

  3. Great post Helen, my brain went to mush as soon as I started thinking about this, but your reasoning is really good, and your choice is excellent. They really do have something for everyone, the only downside being the cost of any of the beautiful named hybrids being around £10 each. There again, the pot luck collections are much cheaper and having just seen the first flower on one of my own seedlings, can yield great results.

  4. I am enjoying hellebore’s blossoming at this time, even an “ordinary” variety is beautiful.

  5. Great choice Helen, for many of the reasons you have listed. I had to chuckle when I read “I even think they might start to attract the same sort of fascination and collecting as snowdrops do. I instantly looked up at my bookshelf and felt a sense of remorse but at the same time the excitement of what I did 😉

    Snowdrops have yet to fully wow me over but hellebores did that around 20 years ago so I can relate to the time the Ashwood’s started. What did I do with my Hellebore book that still remains damaged on my bookshelf? After swooning at the exquisite photographs of the bloom heads side by side (I hadn’t found a better book at that time) I just couldn’t put the book down – I really had a fascination for this plant then and visited a wonderful collection on an Open Garden Visit here in Scotland (it was a national one at that time) where tiny mirrors lined the paths below the nodding hellebore blooms. That was an exciting visit 😀

    Coming back to my bookshelf – after a while, I couldn’t contain myself and decided that the images in my book just had to been seen outside the book. I couldn’t contain myself and took out my art scalpel knife and cleanly cut many pages out (6-8 full pages I think) framed them up and hung them on my kitchen wall above our dining table. It was fun liberating them from the book at the time. I swooned at them there every time I was in my kitchen. They no longer hang on my walls but gave me a lot of pleasure when they did. I’ve been adding hellebores again to my garden in recent years too – I have been genuinely admiring your Ashwood ones – enjoy yours!

  6. What an impossible task to have a favourite! Depending on the season I have ‘favourites’ but maybe spring is the old fashioned white/cream fresia – as the smell is lovely and my parents grew them to sell in our small glasshouse but then yes hellebores, daffs, roses, magnoliias, our yellow kowhai etc etc. At the moment in drought stricken north of Auckland beach side Omaha bromillards are showing colour and most standing the lack of water! Oh what a conumdrum!! and at my daughters on her balcony my summer crocus looks lovely – and of course jacaranda – tulips – iris – etc etc etc etc!!!! Nature is a challenge – go with the condiitions!

  7. Hi Helen – an excellent choice, well researched and a really nice follow up to your study day at the nursery. We stayed at Helen Ballard’s former place for the bloggers’ get together at Malvern and my one regret was we just slightly too late to see her Hellebores in their place of origin.

    Your comment about plant hunting not advancing that well during the world wars is interesting. When I spent some volunteer weekends in the herbarium at Kew in the 1990s, I soon noticed there was a distinct peak in specimens dating from those periods. It seemed really strange, but I reckon many of the soldiers e.g. fighting in Africa and Asia were unable to go home when they were on leave, so they spent their leave studying the native flora in the rainforests etc. nearby instead. I don’t know how many of those discoveries found their way into our gardens though…

    I’ll be looking out for that book – another one to add to my ever groaning shelves 🙂

    Thanks very much for joining in – pleased to see your brain didn’t go ‘pouff’ in the end 😉

  8. Oh most well chosen Helen – hellebores would be high up on my list of contenders too. Ashwood Nurseries have been at the forefront of breeding some absolutely exquisite plants. So far I only have one of their plants but there’s always room for more. Also for those who can’t get to the nursery they do offer mail order as well as hellebore seeds. The latter is a most exciting option 🙂

  9. I think that’s an excellent and well-considered choice; I only wish I could grow them successfully. And that my brain hadn’t turned to mush when I read about this…

  10. Hi Helen – thanks for your comment over at mine 🙂

    Thanks for writing the ideal response to my challenge i.e. only considering and researching introductions from the past 100 years. I found it so difficult to pinpoint the exact date for my choice (though I do have it down to a particular decade now) that I felt I couldn’t impose the ‘100 year rule’ on everyone for what was designed as a fun blogging question. It’s interesting to see that the people I know well are meeting the RHS’s criteria in their answer and those I don’t aren’t.

    I’ve ordered the book you linked to – 1p!!!! So I bought another 2 as well 🙂

  11. Great choice! I agree that hellebores will continue in popularity. I have just recently begun adding hellebores to my garden – and I love them.

  12. Beautiful range of hellebores. I have been really excited by our first ones flowering this year – not Ashwood hellebores though. Obviously I will need to pay the nurseries a visit one day and rectify this…
    I’m not sure I could settle on one plant; my current ‘favourite-of-the-week’ crocus was introduced in 1910, but that puts it just outside the century, harrumph.

  13. Helen,
    as usual you inspire me to get cracking with my blogging again. Great post, I am a complete convert to Hellebore. Tulips are possibly my favourite but of course they were so much earlier.

  14. I am really ‘bowled over’ by your superb pictures. The yellow one is amazing and such a pure colour. Always beautiful, hellebores are have been hugely improved in recent years

  15. Those are really pretty! I went to their website and saw the others too. I have to say that right now to me Hellebores are probably my best investment in the garden. Over the past several years I’ve been adding more and more of them.

  16. Pingback: Plant of the Centenary « An Artist’s Garden

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