JTo me, this is one of the perennial mysteries of gardening: why some plants, despite really seeming to have it all, still languish away from the horticultural spotlight. Near the top of this list must be the hellebores, with their exotic blooms that magically open in the dead of winter. Their blooms often last for months at a time on evergreen, drought-tolerant, fuss-free plants. I often wonder if it’s their incredible generosity combined with the ease of cultivation that makes us take them for granted.
Seeming to defy the seasons, Helleborus foetidus ‘Wester Flisk Group’ is in bloom right now, its finely divided foliage and pistachio blooms on salmon pink stems make it look like it belongs on a distant forest floor in the tropics. If you fancy the look of a schefflera or one of the webbed begonias, but can’t afford their upkeep (or price), this makes for a perfect look-alike. Like all hellebores, it thrives even in dry shade where few others grow.
If truly fabulous winter greenery is your thing, Helleborus x sterni ‘Blackthorn Strain’ has spiky-edged leaves covered in the most wonderfully reptilian green mottle, a botanic animal that gives you full jurassic park vibration. Finally, on the front of the foliage, the soft and luminous green mounds of Helleborus multifidus rise from the ground like a bubbling spring of emerald.
Now let’s talk about flowers. “Unique” may be an overused word in horticulture, but the haunting mix of steel blue, purple and gray hues in the velvety petals of hellebore ‘Blue Diamond’ is truly impossible to find elsewhere in the botanical world. Unlike other plants where all the extra petals of double flowers can take away some of their wild charm, in hellebores they give them the wonderful ability to impersonate other species. In my eyes, hellebore ‘Onyx Odyssey’ looks like a giant cherry blossom but, as the name suggests, with the deepest black and a silvery gray powder coating on its petals. ‘Wedding Party Bridesmaid’ is altogether softer and more delicate with a whiff of forest cactus flowers. The white petals are edged with currant at one end, fading to the palest jade green towards the center. All simply magnificent.
There is even a whole series of doubles with the elegant appearance of water lilies. ‘Hebe’ has burgundy breaks that bleed through the icy white petals and, if you want even more color, ‘Artemis’ has a very similar wine-colored marbling, but on acid yellow. Since some of these details must be appreciated up close and their tilted heads can hide some of their true wonder in the garden, their splendor is sometimes best appreciated as a cut flower, with individual blooms placed floating in a bowl. of water. A beautiful unconventional form of floristry indoors, or alternatively the simplest eye-catching display floating in container ponds or water urns outdoors.
It’s really hard to think of a single plant that can offer so much, at a time of year that often offers so little.
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