The Recent Garden History of Heleniums

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Helenium autumnale was introduced to Europe from N America in 1729(1). The Gardeners' Chronicle of 1878 shows a delightful, though hardly accurate, line drawing of Helenium autumnale - 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."

Helenium autumnale from Gardeners' Chronicle 1878

Helenium autumnale - described as "clear yellow." Illustrated in Gardeners' Chronicle of December 7, 1878. Taken from a plant in "Mr Fraser's nursery".

The pages of the Gardeners' Chronicle during the last years of the 19 Century see some debate about the naming of various species and forms including Helenium bolanderi, H autumnale pumilum, H grandiflorum, H hoopesii, H tenuifolium and H nudiflorum (flexuosum). There is no mention of any named forms and gardening seems to have been restricted to the species only.

The 1897 catalogue from Kelway's Langport Nursery lists just half a dozen species. From the debate at the time, the plant called H grandicephalum striatum is possibly the species now known as Helenium flexuosum.

Kelway's 1897 catalogue

Extract from Kelway's 1897 catalogue of plants.

But by 1930 a plant revolution had taken place. The first of Pritchard's selections in the U.S, 'Riverton Beauty' gained an Award of Merit (AM) in 1909 and his other introduction, 'Riverton Gem', along with 'Gartensonne' and H autumnale superbum rubrum achieved AMs in 1914. Helenium Mrs Bradshaw gained an AM in 1924 and Helenium Wyndley (bred by Thos Grove and Sons at their Wyndley nursery in Sutton Coldfield U.K.) was awarded an AM in 1929. 'Goldene Jugende' was introduced by Junge in 1924 and in 1930, the red against which other reds are judged, 'Moerheim Beauty' was raised by Ruys at Dedemsvaart in the Netherlands.

This activity is reflected in Kelway's expanded 1930 listings which had for sale 14 distinct forms including Crimson Beauty, Kelway's Star, July Sun, Madame Canivet, Riverton Beauty, Riverton Gem and Wyndley.

Meanwhile in Germany, the first plant catalogue of Karl Foerster had appeared in 1907 but as late as the 1930s his list did not contain a single Helenium. Yet this prolific plantsman had introduced his first Phlox paniculata varieties and Rudbeckia Goldsturm was named in 1933. Foerster had been inspired by the natural plant associations of Swiss alpine meadows while convalescing as a child and naturalistic plantings influenced his life's work.

However, 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 introductions and including Goldlackzwerg (1949), Rubinkuppel (1950), Zimbelstern (1956) and the lovely Konigstiger(1964) which is shown on the title page of this website. Foerster is reported to have introduced some 73 forms(2) but just how many remain in cultivation today is unclear. He also concieved the idea of the network of German plant trial centres at which Helenium varieties are currently being assessed. Foerster was only interested in plants which performed well under adverse conditions - they had to be fully hardy, drought and disease resistant, heat tolerant and reliably perennial. He reckoned that 60% of the existing plant cultivars at that time did not meet his tests.

Foerster varieties of Helenium

4 of Karl Foerster's Helenium introductions. Clockwise from top left are shown Königstiger (1964), Die Blonde (1959), Feuersiegel (1959), Zimbelstern (1956)

In the U.K. during the late 1950s and 1960s, Alan Bloom and Percy Piper at Bressingham were busy selecting Heleniums. Bruno, Butterpat, Coppelia and Bressingham Gold all originated here. Of these, Butterpat is perhaps the most significant. It has been planted widely and retails a good clean leaf through the growing season.

Recent introductions are now coming from a number of enthusiasts, particularly in the Netherlands and Germany. Brian Kabbes from near Leeuwarden in Friesland, Holland has produced Adios, Fiesta, Lambada and others but he has regretably now stopped growing Heleniums. Another Dutch nurseryman, Coen Jansen from near Dedemsvaart, has produced the varieties Karneol and Vivace.

Dr Conrad Näser has introduced Goldammer and Uwe Peglow, with an nursery near Berlin, has introduced Rauchtopaz. Peter and Barbel Zur Linden have introduced the good red Indianersommer, Kleiner Fuchs and Rubinzwerg and continue to introduce good forms. Inez Arnold from near Nijmegen in Holland has introduced Ring of Fire, Summer Circle, Potter's Wheel, Gay-go-round and Two-faced Fan; the first two of these gained AGMs in the 2001 trials at RHS Wisley. The Arnolds open their garden to visitors. And a pupil of Karl Foerster, Uwe Peglow from Potsdam has recently introduced Rauchtopas which was the best performing variety in the recently ended (2005) trial at Weihenstephan in Bavaria.


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