If there's one plant that can inject a little razzle-dazzle into the border during our gloomy late summers it is Helenium. From late July to September, Helenium autumnale 'Helena' blooms with masses of vibrant blooms in a spectrum of rich colours from gold to mahogany red. Each flower head has up to twenty reflexed petals some edged with yellow.
The dazzling colour range makes a spectacular autumn display in perennial borders. Growing to a height of 120cm (48in), it is perfect for the back of the border and the long stems are wonderful for cutting.
This perennial variety will flower the same year from an early sowing giving a spectacular, late summer display.
Heleniums are much under-rated garden plants. These late flowering perennials are a mainstay of the summer and autumn border but are so often overlooked. They are colourful, tolerate difficult growing conditions, provide months of colour, are attractive to pollinating insects and unaffected by most pests and diseases.
Very adaptable to a variety of soils, including dry conditions, they are very hardy, reported as able to withstand temperatures down to minus 40°C (-40°F). Helenium are very easy to grow, all this plant needs is sunshine and well-drained soil.
Sowing: February to June or September to October
This variety will flower the same year from an early sowing giving a spectacular, late summer display. Sow on the surface of a good free draining, damp seed compost. Cover with a very fine sprinkling of compost. Place in a propagator or seal container inside a polythene bag until after germination which usually takes 14 to 21 days at 18°C (64°F) but may be erratic. The compost should be kept slightly moist, but not wet at all times. Do not exclude light at any stage, as this helps germination.
Prick out each seedling as it becomes large enough to handle, transplant into 7.5cm (3in) pots. Grow on in cool, well lit conditions at 12 to 15°C (53 to 59°F). Gradually acclimatise to outdoor conditions before planting out 30cm (12in) apart. Later sowings can be overwintered in a coldframe and planted out the following spring.
Like all daisies, heleniums need a bright, sunny position. Heleniums are found growing in a wide variety of conditions but very often in moist or even wet habitats. The garden forms also show a preference for damp conditions but will tolerate any soils except very dry ones. If soils are dry it will help to include plenty of well rotted humus to retain moisture. Should your heleniums wilt, pour buckets of water gently on to the roots and they will revive.
Pests and diseases are mercifully rare in Heleniums. In early spring the soft new growth can be damaged by slugs - some varieties seem more prone than others. For long term control use surface mulches of chopped or shredded twiggy material. This not only acts as a physical deterrent to slugs, more importantly it provides an excellent habitat for those fast moving small black beetles which are superb slug predators - in particular slug eggs.
Taller forms may require staking especially when grown on damp or fertile soils.
All heleniums respond to dead-heading so take off any spent flowers as they fade, more will appear in their place. Once flowering has ceased and the plant has died back the stems should be cut down.
Apply one annual application of organic fertiliser when coming into growth in the spring.
Always wait until the spring before dividing the plants. Every third year is ideal.
While many herbaceous plants can be divided in the autumn, heleniums are an exception and are best dealt with in spring just as they are starting into growth. You may get away with autumn division with a large clump but the disturbance followed by a cold wet winter will often kill smaller pieces.
The simplest method is to tear apart an established clump into as many pieces as necessary. As with many border plants, the material growing on the outside is the most vigorous and the best to use. Wait until growth has started, probably from mid March onwards when growth has started but stems have not lengthened too much and some new root growth has started.
You can divide as small as you like right down to a single rosette with its roots. As you divide it is easy to separate and remove the old and dead material which was the previous year's growth. It is easier to separate small pieces if the plant is washed in water.
Cottage/Informal Garden, Flower Arranging, Flowers Borders and Beds. Mass planting, Bee and wildlife gardens.
There are about 40 species of Helenium in North and Central America. Helenium autumnale is the most widely distributed species. It grows widely, from Quebec to Florida and from British Columbia to Arizona, it is found in wet meadows, thickets, and even swamps and river margins.
Helenium autumnale was introduced to Europe from North America in 1729. The Gardeners' Chronicle of 1878 shows a delightful, though hardly accurate, line drawing of Helenium autumnale. It was described as -"Among the more showy herbaceous plants this is one of the best . . . it is at once effective and refined which cannot be said of all the yellow flowered composites."
There is no mention of any named forms and gardening seems to have been restricted to the species only.
But by 1930 a plant revolution had taken place. The first selection in the U.S 'Riverton Beauty' gained an Award of Merit (AM) in 1909, this was quickly followed by a number of other cultivars.
Meanwhile in Germany, the first plant catalogue of Karl Foerster had appeared in 1907 but as late as the 1939 his list did not contain a single Helenium. We had to wait until 1940 for Karl Foerster to introduce his first Helenium. This was named 'Kupfersprudel' and once he had started his output was prolific. His 1964-66 catalogue lists 19 Helenium varieties of which 17 were his own. Foerster is reported to have introduced some 73 forms but just how many remain in cultivation today is unclear.
In the U.K. during the late 1950s and 1960s, Alan Bloom and Percy Piper at Bressingham began breeding Heleniums. Recent introductions are now coming from a number of enthusiasts, particularly in the Netherlands and Germany.
The genus Helenium is said to be named by Linnaeus after Helen of Troy, according to the legend that these flowers sprang up from the ground where her tears were supposed to have fallen. It is commonly called Helen’s Flower
The species name autumnale is from the Latin autumnus and the adjectival suffix alis meaning "of or pertaining to the autumn”, usually flowering then.
The common name Sneezeweed is believed to be derived from the former use of the dried leaves to make a snuff. This was inhaled by native Americans to promote sneezing and rid the body of evil spirits. The name sneezeweed, by the way, not only grates on the ear, it is also inaccurate, since heleniums are not in the least allergy-provoking,
- Additional Information
Packet Size 50mg Average Seed Count 250 Seeds Seed Form Natural Seeds per gram 5,000 seeds per gram Family Asteraceae Genus Helenium Species autumnale Cultivar Helena Common Name Helens's Flower, Autumn Helenium Other Common Names Sneezeweed Hardiness Hardy Perennial Hardy Reportely able to withstand to minus 40°C (-40°F). Flowers Rich colours from gold to mahogany red. Natural Flower Time Summer to autumn. Foliage Herbaceous Height 50cm (20in) Spread 40cm (16in) Position Full sun. Soil Very adaptable to a variety of soils, including dry conditions. Time to Sow February to June or September to October. Germination 14 to 21 days at 13 to 15°C (55 to 59°F)