Heleniums are one on the most colourful and happy of all the herbaceous perennials, they simply dazzle with their flame-like colour especially when they catch the afternoon sun. Their flowers resemble giant shuttlecock shaped daisies with chocolate coloured centres and petals that are folded down the colour of a perfect sunset, going from orange to red.
They are the stars of many a hot herbaceous border, adding height and life to the border.
They are also hugely popular with bees and butterflies.
I still remember my first sight of ‘Sahin’s Early Flowerer’, the hairs rose on the back of my neck, and I just knew I had met a new “must have” plant. One that simply had to be shoe horned into my garden. I was first introduced to this wonderful plant by my close personal friend and plantsman, Martin Rowland of Mires Beck Nursery in East Yorkshire where they have a form that seems to be a little brighter and to flower on a slightly shorter stem, perfect for a smaller garden.
Whilst there are many other excellent cultivars of Helenium, all of which have a lot going for them, they pale into insignificance next to ‘Sahin’s Early Flowerer’ where every flower seems to be different, either in the markings of the petals or the yellow and brown coloration on the chocolate brown centres of the flowers.
This is a truly superb Helenium, or to give it its common name, sneezeweed which comes from a type of snuff that the Cherokee Indians used to make from the flowers in its native North America and Canada. The snuff was reputed to be a cure colds and related disorders.
Heleniums are also known as Helen’s flowers with legend suggesting that they sprang from the ground watered by the tears of Helen of Troy.
Always fascinated by the history of plants, the story of ‘Sahin’s Early Flowerer’ is one of a truly outstanding plant that simply shone with quality when grown at the Sahin Trials Ground in Zeeland, Holland. ‘Sahin’s Early Flowerer’ is thought to be a cross between Helenium autumnale and Helenium bigelovii which was present in a seed mix, “Autumn Leaves” that was being grown in the trials ground in 1996. It stole the show, both with its stunning bright colour and because of its long flowering season from June to November. It was selected by the late Kees Sahin and came to the notice of Bob Brown of Cotswold Garden Plants who named it in honour of Mr Sahin.
An incredibly reliable performer, which still seems to shine and glow in drier conditions that can leave other Heleniums looking a little dull, ‘Sahin’s Early Flowerer’ proved itself with the RHS, being awarded the coveted Award of Garden Merit (AGM) in the 1999/2001 trial.
They prefer to be planted in the spring (40cm apart) in a position that enjoys full sun. They prefer, like many plants, to be in well drained yet very moisture retentive soil. Whilst unhappy in a shaded north border they work well in island beds and South, East or West facing borders. They flower from early in the summer until the first frosts of autumn. In soils that are light, or in areas with lower rainfall they can flag in the summer. In such situations the addition of well rotted compost into the planting hole along with a spring mulch of well rotted organic material will be beneficial. The foliage can be cut back to the ground in February, prior to growth commencing in March.
They are propagated by division in either the autumn or spring, or some of the early shoots that appear in spring can be removed as basal cuttings. Like all Heleniums they are at their best when divided every three years.
Heleniums in general are easy to care for, they rarely suffer from plant pests, and while they may suffer from leaf spot, this can easily be dealt with either by increasing air movement or through the removal of infected leaves. Wise gardeners will also take care to protect the young spring growth from the ravages of slugs and snails, which are partial to so many of our herbaceous plants in the spring.
Although only growing to 3 or 4 foot in height, they can benefit from a little bit of support from pea sticks, and are best growing behind other plants as they can look a little untidy with torn and to be honest tatty looking leaves before the flowers start, and all is forgiven. They can also be given the Chelsea chop in May, which whilst it can delay flowering, can give a greater density of flowering.
Heleniums are suitable for growing in a cutting garden, and are loved by bees and butterflies and look fabulous planted with deep blue Agapanthus or when grown in a mixed border with Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’, Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ Verbena bonariensis and Echinacea and Monarda sp.