It’s the plant of the month. Well, last month maybe. (April does bring strong competition.) And the month before. They begin to flower in January and still look good in April; the petals keep their colour. No species is so varied, and that is why they have decided that it’s not a species after all, but a group of garden hybrids, hybrids of the true H. orientalis, which grows in northern Turkey near the Black Sea, and some of its Balkan neighbours. Anyway, some photos:
When the flowers open they hang down, and as they are fertilised they gradually lift up their heads. I had to get down low to take these photos, except for this last one. Hellebores don’t make a good cut flower but you can float their heads in a bowl of water. This little collection was made at St John’s, Waterloo some years ago. You buy one or two plants, dig up one or two more seedlings in a friend’s garden or your own, someone gives you a few seeds, they all breed and multiply and without really trying you have a beautiful family. (I like the idea of plants from Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Turkey, Albania, etc. getting together to make a happy family.) Professional breeders are at work, producing expensive named varieties – like the double one in one of these photos – but you can create your own varieties, or rather look on as they create themselves, and you don’t need to give them names.
And this one got broken somehow, I found it lying on the ground, otherwise its head would have been hanging down, its face almost invisible.
You can see, particularly in the second picture in this little series, how the seeds develop, and how the petals persist. They will be ripe in the summer, but not germinate until the following spring. Picture number 2 shows the same plant as number 3, about two weeks later.
These hellebores like a decent soil but they’re not too choosy. They prefer semi-shade, are tolerant of drought though they might look miserable for a while, and are generally disease and pest free. They are poisonous.
It’s usual, though not necessary, to cut off the old leaves in late winter as the new flower stems begin to show.
Avoid Helleborus niger, which is often used in garden centres to make a big show around christmas, when it flowers. (It’s sometimes still known as the Christmas rose, though hellebores are not related to roses: they’re actually in the same family as buttercups. Our hellebore used to be known as the Lenten rose, but that title has faded along with the significance of lent, and maybe because of climate change it begins to flower much earlier than lent.)
Anyway, avoid Helleborus niger, although some people somewhere must be able to grow it successfully. I’ve never seen a happy one, except in woods in the mountains of Slovenia. Sometimes my customers would be made a present of one and I would carefully plant it out, but it would always die within the year.
But Helleborus corsicus, now known as H. argutifolius – what was wrong with corsicus? – is a god one. I’ve seen it under massive old pine trees in the mountains of Corsica: it really is drought tolerant. Its flowers are greenish-yellow, its leaves are bold and elegant.
Next time! more delightful spring flowers!!
like gorgeous Narcissus ‘Jenny’. I’m falling into sexist and royalist ways: if Helleborus x hybridus is the King of Spring, or queen maybe though that doesn’t rhyme, then Jenny is a princess.