Four Little Maids: a Hellebore Experiment

IMG_1722When she knows we are due to my visit my Mum tries to save the gardening section from recent Daily Telegraphs as she knows I like to read them, and in one of these saved issues was a response from Helen Yemm, the regular columnist, to a reader enquiring about hellebores in vases. She gave the popular solution, floating hellebore heads in water, the flower arrangers’ tip of dipping the last inch of stem in not quite boiling water, but had an intriguing third suggestion, given to her by a reader many years ago: keeping the stem underwater, crush the bottom 1½” of stem then, still with the flower under water, cut through the stem with scissors which will remove an airlock and the cut ends will then stiffen and splay out.

It may be towards the end of the hellebore season (the article was from a February issue) but while it was fresh in my mind I thought I would try the latter technique out so I would know for next year. To make it more of a ‘scientific’ experiment, I picked one flower where the seed capsules were beginning to form, following a suggestion of Julie from Peonies and Posies, and three others still in full health. One of the latter was untreated, one was dunked in hot water, and the other had the crush and cut treatment; I could have also floated another head in water but I already know they can continue looking beautiful for a week like this. To make it a ‘fair’ test, I ensured not only that the glasses were identical but that IMG_1723they all had the same amount of water. Let the experiment begin!

As an added bonus, whilst looking for a fourth ‘crocus glass’ (has anyone successfully grown crocus in one of these?!), I found a green and a purple crocus glass I had forgotten I had kept – ideal for little posies on a Monday!

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19 Responses to Four Little Maids: a Hellebore Experiment

  1. Christina says:

    Even though I can’t grow hellebores I think this is what ‘good’ blogging is all about; sharing ideas and information to make us all better gardeners or better flower arrangers. Thank you

    • Cathy says:

      I too have learned so much from other bloggers – and there is such a joy in sharing, whether it is knowledge, support, praise, humour, plants/seeds. I love it 🙂

  2. sueturner31 says:

    I have a teeny weeny vase …it is only 8 cms tall and 4cms wide at the top…one year I grew a couple of grape hyacinth in it and it was lovely…

  3. I will be interested to know what you find out. I grow lots of hellebores and have practically given up trying to bring any into the house as I can’t find a way of making them work as a cut flower.

    • Cathy says:

      It does work well with floating just the flower heads, but I have found that the hot water technique can make the stem floppy which then begins to rot. I shall do an update within the week!

  4. Chloris says:

    I love your 4 maids. Hellebores are amazing, they just get better and better as the weeks go by. I will be interested to see how this method of Helen Yemm’s works. Funnily enough I have just been reading her book: ‘Thorny Problems’ which is a collection of queries and answers from The Daily Telegraph. She mentions this technique in her book.

    • Cathy says:

      That’s a coincidence, Chloris! And yes, they have such a long season of interest – something else one can’t have too many of 😉

  5. rusty duck says:

    Intriguing.. I’d dearly love to have hellebores in the house. Hope it works!

  6. Julie says:

    I am really looking forward to reading your results Cathy – I have never heard of the crush and cut theory. I might have a go at this myself although it will have to wait till next weekend as the weekend is manic. I feel like we are back at school in the science lab – how did it go – question, hypothesis, experiment, conclusion?

    • Cathy says:

      Something like that! Hope you survive your weekend, Julie – more floral displays for dinner parties, perhaps? 😉

  7. Susan says:

    I have always used hellebores in vases with reasonable success by splitting their stems with a sharp knife into four quarters for between two and three inches up the stem. I learnt this from my mother at least forty years ago. They will still droop a little, but hold their heads sufficiently to look attractive. I remember Rosemary Verey advising the cutting of stems under water to prevent air locks, gets messy though. What I would like to know is whether the scalding of of dahlia stems lengthens their vase life, I suspect it does but it is an extra fiddle.

    • Cathy says:

      Oh thanks Susan – I could have had 5 little maids, couldn’t I?! Don’t know about dahlias – I haven’t had any worth picking yet, but hopefully this year!

  8. Anna says:

    Will be interested to hear the outcome Cathy. Sarah Raven recommends putting the bottom of the stem in boiling water for about 20 seconds immediately after cutting. then plunging into deep tepid water. If the flower heads droop she suggests cutting the stem again and repeating the searing process. I can’t confirm whether it works though 😦

    • Cathy says:

      I can imagine the stems getting shorter and shorter by this process! And hellebore stems vary hugely in thickness too, which will always make a difference – I haven’t felt I could spare any of the really chunky multi-flowered stems but I suspect they might last longer however you treated them 😉

  9. Annette says:

    Sounds rather cruel but I look forward to your results 😉

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