I can currently count the number of hard frosts that my small urban patch has had this winter on one hand. I’m craving some freezing weather, sheets a glassy ice on the watering hole and feathery crystals clinging onto foliage. Alas, I’m not sure whether we’re going to get any at all, and whilst you and your delicate perennials may be breathing a sigh of relief, the rest of your garden won’t be. 2011 was a bumper year for fruit, and the explosion of roses, wisteria and forsythia last year certainly had something to do with the enforced dormancy that snowy 2010/11 induced. No such luck for this year I fear, and along with some lacklustre flowering by many plants, I fear that pests will also be out of control due to their numbers not being crippled by winter cold. However, whilst there is much to be concerned about, there is one garden gem offering it’s cheer at the moment; the stunning hellebore.
I often feel that this lovely plant is often forgotten about during the winter months, with gardeners focusing on the colours offered by the early bulbs. Skimmia’s fill porch pots, and winter pansies offer a surprising delicacy, but the hellebore is nowhere to be seen. I recently heard someone say they were a bit boring…boring?! They obviously haven’t been sniffing around my garden then have they!
It’s true, many varieties have green flowers; not the most exciting colour at this time of year. But many, many others offer beautifully hued and architectural flowers which hang like floating lanterns between the stems. Cutting back last years leaves helps to unveil tight buds ready to bloom, and you only have to look at helleborus niger (Christmas Rose) to get a hint of what hellebores offer the garden.
In my own patch, I have a pink variety passed down to me from my mother. It never fails to produce a huge number of blooms every year, and seeds itself like crazy. This is another huge benefit of hellebores in addition to their winter colour; the ease in which they seed. So productive are they, that you can easily propagate and hybridise varieties in your own back garden. All you need is a soft paint bush to collect pollen, dab it on some of the stamens on another plant, let the seeds swell and ripen and then collect and germinate. Hey presto, your own unique strain of hellebores.
Seeding so easily, having almost no maintenance other than cutting back last years foliage in January, and bursting into life when herbaceous borders have long since died away, the hellebore is the one plant that is lifting my mood. We may not have had a winter, but nothing greets the start of the New Year quite like the understated magnificence of the hellebore.