Heavenly Helleborus

As the title suggests, gardeners and horticulturalists are a huge fan of the Hellebore for their heavenly pendulous flower heads and glowing presence, informing us that winter has finally broken. A stunning winter flowering plant which is immensely popular for their exquisite appearance which creates delicate features within an often bare winter garden.  

If we step back in time for a moment and delve into the history of the Hellebore, we see one of our garden favourites in a more sinister light. (I am afraid it is true - do not be fooled by a pretty face)

Helleborus (Hellebore) Double Ellen Pink

In many ancient civilizations, Hellebore's were utilised to form medicines that would aid in the cure of gout, paralysis and insanity.

However, these plants are highly toxic and if ingested in large volumes, would cause some quite nasty symptoms such as vertigo and would often lead to swelling of the tongue and throat.

In extreme circumstances, these medicines could cause heart attacks, slowing of the heart and even death.

It is rumoured that the mystery illness which killed Alexander the Great, could actually have been caused by an overdose of medication containing Hellebore.

It is therefore easy to see why these blooms fueled many stories of witchcraft, dark myths and folklore during these times and for many centuries that followed.

Helleborus (Hellebore) Double Ellen Purple
I do not want to upset or anger anyone too much by condemning these winter beauties and so I will regale you with a tale to redeem our faith in these blooms. According to Greek mythology, the daughters of King Argos suffered from a form of madness that made them run naked in the streets, crying uncontrollably at the top of their voices. It was found that a medication made of Hellebore cured them! (Hooray!)

Helleborus (Hellebore) Double Ellen White

So, there we go! Not so bad after all (Although do not feel tempted to make your own homemade remedies after this rumoured success story!!)
                                                                   
On a lighter note:

You may have heard the Hellebore being referred to as the Lenten or Christmas Rose - this is because they generally flower during December and April. (The Hellebore is no relation to the Rose family at all and is in-fact part of the Buttercup clan.)

The breathtaking daintiness and modesty shown by these flowers defy nature by surviving the coldest temperatures. It baffles me how something so delicate can fiercely fight against frost and bitter winds and still look just as delightful and elegant. 

Helleborus (Hellebore) Double Ellen Red
Helleborus are tough, low maintenance plants that prefer dappled shade and look amazing planted in drifts within a woodland setting, or even in a shady perennial border. Alternatively fill dozens of pots and containers with moist but well-drained soil to create a spectacular focal point on patios or decking. The dark foliage acts as a glorious plinth for these beauties to take centre stage and I believe no winter garden is complete without them .
Helleborus (Hellebore) Double Ellen Yellow Spotted

If we forget the nastiness of ancient remedies and myths, we see a heavenly concoction of elegance, rich colour, perfectly formed foliage and beautiful architectural structure - some varieties are even lucky enough to fill a winter garden with subtle yet sweet fragrance. 

So what have we learnt today about the Hellebore?

1) Do not try to cure anyone using elements of a Hellebore - a prison sentence would be immanent (even if there have been the odd historical success story)
2) Hellebore plants do not actually belong to the Rose family, although they are commonly known as the Christmas Rose.
3) Hellebores will defy nature and survive winter frosts. 
4) Our winter garden favourite may have caused the death of a historical legend - Alexander the Great. 
5) Even with a sinister background, we still love our Heavenly Hellebores! 

What is your favourite Hellebore? Who will be joining me by adding bundles of these winter beauties to pots and borders this season?

becky@hayloftplants.co.uk




Comments

  1. Yes, stunning. Got several. I'm wondering whether to mulch them, as I'm sure I read they do better. At the moment there's been so much leaf fall, they're hiding. Much folklore on them. Thank-you Becky, fab.

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    1. How wonderful Viv! I have recently moved and the garden is pretty bare, which leaves a blank canvas to add some Hellebores myself! I understand that an annual mulch in autumn is beneficial with bark chippings or leaf mould, so now is the perfect time! I would like to read more about the myths and tales! Thankyou Viv. Have a lovely weekend!

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