WE live in dangerous and worrying times.
For two years now we have struggled with Covid-19 and its restrictions of one kind or another. Many thousands have died.
Then there’s Brexit to contend with, the recovering economy, climate change, soaring energy prices, and unrest and violent demonstrations in many, many countries.
We may, therefore, be overstocked with doom and gloom but make no mistake about it, we gardeners are among the lucky ones having a ready retreat into the inviolate rhythms of nature.
So today, I return to a garden plant which despite the weather and the cost of living, is a matchless garden treasure.
No other January flowering plant gives a greeting warmer or more eloquent than the flowering of the first hellebore.
Here is a matchless treasure, boldly assertive in its stance, colourful in all its varieties, punctual as the New Year itself. It has it all.
Hellebore blooms look delicate, even frail, yet once they have opened, they defy whatever the weather throws at them, insist on lasting their full term which can be three months and more.
The sturdy stems on which they are carried are erect and serve to lift them, clean and unsullied, above the splashes of winter mud.
As to the texture of the petals, be assured they are firm and with plenty of substance-an important point in a plant flowering against the odds in January and February.
Their range of colours have always been hard to describe.
Like the spectrum found in paints and fabric they range from delicate whites to peach, dark plum, apple green, claret red, yellow, and all the shades and mixtures in between.
There’s a bevy of pure pristine whites, and more than a handful of dark-leaved, plum-coloured beauties which border on black.
As to their scent, an eggshell or a blade of grass all have more of a perfume than the hellebore, but it in no way detracts from their utter desirability.
They will grow well and seed prolifically, in partial shade and are good on limestone and chalk, provided the ground is fertile and free draining. They detest waterlogging.
Bear in mind also that young plants need time to establish fully, and many can take up to three years before they really flower in character.
They resent disturbance and will thank you for being left alone by blooming stronger and for longer as the years pass.
In past times, Hellebores were treated with suspicion and fear, because for generations they were regarded as a cure for madness. Modern technology has put an end to all that.