It is so cold in the Macedon Ranges in Central Victoria that you can feel it in your bones, but it might be the most colourful place in Victoria right now.
- Hellebores are unique flowers that are blooming through the midst of winter in Victoria
- The species has its own ecological niche in winter
- An individual flower can stay open for days or even weeks
At Peter Leigh and Cathryn Goebel’s flower farm, they grow hellebores – or winter roses – and thousands of flowers in myriad colours are starting to come alive and bloom.
“It’s a plant that has its own ecological niche in winter.
“In the wild where it comes from, which is in parts of Europe, it flowers basically in the middle of winter through to very early spring.
“Often in the cold areas of the Pyrenees mountains in Spain or the Balkan countries in the middle of winter it’s freezing cold and there aren’t too many bees around, so they have to stay open for a long time.”
And that’s why the hellebore is so long-flowered.
“Their common name is the winter rose so it’s almost a rose-like flower but they’re not related botanically to roses.”
Mr Leigh has been growing the species for more than 20 years and moved to regional Victoria after he ran out of room in his suburban backyard in Melbourne.
“I was an amateur gardener originally and I grew them in my backyard in Brunswick and just started getting into them and buying seed from overseas and pollinating myself.
“It sort of got out of control from there and I had to either change hobbies or move where I lived, so I moved up here and established the nursery.”
Pollinating by hand
But pollinating the flower in the depths of winter in Victoria is a difficult task.
“It does seem to be wet and miserable up here most of the times,” Mr Leigh said.
Mr Leigh says they hand-pollinate the flowers to keep them “true to type”.
“Workers here are doing quite detailed manual work with the hand pollination; taking the anthers off the plant and applying it to the stigma off the other plant using tweezers.
“If we leave it to the bees, first of all, there aren’t many bees around at this time of year — it’s too cold — and doing that kind of work in the arctic weather can be very difficult.”
Well-suited to temperate Australia
Despite the hand-numbing work, Mr Leigh says he does enjoy the fruits of his labour.
“I really enjoy coming out here,” he said.
“We breed our own and it takes three years from when we do the hand pollination to when we see the resulting flower.
“They don’t mind the frost and the cold and they tolerate the heat in summer as long as they’re the right spot.
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