Breeding of Hellebores at Ashwood Nurseries

John Massey MBE VMH, owner Ashwood Nurseries with Kevin Belcher

Breeding of Hellebores At Ashwood Nurseries

By Howard Drury



A Brief Look at Hellebore Breeding at Ashwood

The story of hellebores at Ashwood Nurseries began in the late 1980s when nursery owner John Massey, realizing their potential as a winter crop, began acquiring plants and gleaning knowledge from specialists of the time (Elizabeth Strangman, Helen Ballard, Will McClewin, Robin and Sue White).

The task of establishing a breeding programme, with Helleborus x hybridus at its heart, was given to Ashwood grower Kevin Belcher, assisted by Jill Pearce. Seed propagation by cross-pollination of selected parents and stringent selection of their progeny over many years has resulted in Helleborus x hybridus Ashwood Garden Hybrids being widely recognized as one of the best strains of hellebores ever produced, achieving numerous RHS Gold medals over many years of exhibiting.

Around 8 to 10 thousand Ashwood Garden Hybrids are produced annually, and breeding work is ongoing so that the strain is evolving all the time. Kevin’s recently launched Helleborus x hybridus Ashwood Evolution Group is aptly named and includes some remarkable colour breakthroughs; interspecies hybrids are proving another rich source of new varieties for the future, waiting in the wings to wow the gardening public. One thing is certain: a plant breeder’s work is never finished. 

Emasculation to prevent unwanted cross pollination
Removing pollen from male donor
Cross labelled with parents and bagged
Seedlings awaiting pricking out
Young seedlings in deep modules
Plants take three years to reach flowering

The Evolution Group

The Evolution Group, which is exclusive to Ashwood Nurseries, has developed as a result of hybridizing our finest golden yellow Helleborus x hybridus Ashwood Garden Hybrids.

This painstaking process has yielded some spectacular results and the Evolution Group comprises singles, doubles and anemones in the most sublime shades of golden yellow, amber, peach, apricot and even red. Nectaries vary from golden yellow to red, some enhanced by a vibrant red flush.

Some blooms are picotee, some are beautifully veined while others are delicately spotted; all are enchanting.

All plants are characterized by large outward-facing blooms on strong stems, good colour on the backs and long-lasting colour retention. The foliage is healthy and robust, with the added bonus that some selections have distinctive yellow-green leaves that intensify to buttercup yellow in Autumn.

Named colour selections are already well established and include Neon, Sunrise, Sunset and Daybreak shades but, as our Chelsea exhibit reveals, there are many new and exciting developments in the pipeline.

Some may not be available for the gardening public to buy until 2020, but gardeners, like plant breeders, understand the virtue of patience…and it will be well worth the wait! In John’s words: “Let no one ever tell you that all the breeding possibilities have been done. There are always plenty of new excitements every year, and remember…you are never too old to dream.”

The information given in this Fact Sheet is provided in good faith.  It is however of necessity general information and advice on the topic.  Howard Drury will not be under any liability in respect of the provision of such advice and information, and you are strongly advised to seek independent advice on any particular gardening problems or queries you may have, preferably from experts who can (when appropriate) inspect the problem before providing advice.

The Evolution Group with good Yellows
The Evolution Group Double Yellow
The Evolution Group Daybreak Shades

© 2022 This material has been produced by Howard Drury and must not be reproduced in part or full by any method without the written consent of Howard Drury, Kings Heath, Birmingham, B13 0SJ.


Image is designed and maintained by Darren Hodson © 2022, The Drurys