It comes in so many variations . . .
#010 : Helleborus orientalis (and relations)
Hellebore or Lenten Rose
When we moved here 15 years ago I planted lots of Hellebores, seedlings from friends & families' gardens and purchases from specialist nurseries. I thought Hellebores would thrive in the shrubby borders . . . they did OK for a while and I grew more from the seeds they produced - but, the North facing border was too dark, damp and chilly and the East facing border was too dry during the drought years (remember them?) so there are very few plants remaining.
Happily the past two years of wet weather and this mild Winter has brought the Hellebores we still have into flower early and I'm reminded how lovely they are.
Helleborus orientalis (a species originating from the Orient or East) is what most people think of as 'the' Hellebore, the flowers hang their heads down, so the only way to appreciate their individual colours and markings is to crawl on the ground or pick the flowers and float them on water in a shallow dish . . . or as I did, lay my iPad under the plant and do a botanical-selfie. I know this is a Helleborus Orientalis, it's one of the original plants I bought from a nursery, but the one below is a seedling I grew and it's a bit different - the petals (or to be correct, sepals - the actual petals are the rosette of little lime green tubes at the centre of the flower) are stiff and more rounded and the flower head doesn't droop over. This is a cross between H. Orientalis and another species, maybe the native British 'Stinking Hellebore', H. Foetidus which we also have growing nearby. Hellebores aren't choosy, so if you let them self-seed you can get all sorts of interesting variations, and if you're very lucky, you may get something very very special . . . like these!
What does Hellebore mean? Good question! One theory is that it is from Greek 'hellos' meaning a fawn and 'bora' meaning food, but as the plants are smelly and toxic this seems a bit strange! Alternatively it could be from 'hele' which means to take away/remove - to remove food, to make sick . . . nice! All Hellebores are very poisonous if digested, so I wouldn't recommend feeding them to your pet fawn, or anybody else for that matter.
I rather like the common name for Helleborus orientalis, Lenten Rose. Just as Christmas Rose is used as the common name for H. niger, it describes when the flowers appear. Lent is the 40 days leading up to Easter, the exact dates vary from year to year, but roughly it's from late February to Early April. This year Lent starts on 5th March (get ready for Pancake Day next week!)
To add to the Hellebore genetic soup in our borders, I couldn't resist buying two new plants the other day, they are new hybrids H. nigercors (crosses between Christmas Rose (H. niger) and the Corsican Hellebore which has stout stalks baring many flowers) and another H. ericsmithii, which also has genes from H. lividus. I'd seen variations of these new hybrid Hellebores in plantings around the Cambridge University Sidgewick site, and they look stunning over many weeks - even when the flowers fade the sturdy creamy-green of the sepals remain above the the dark almost metalic blue-green leaves.
I chose a beautiful cream one (above) which is tinged with pink as the flowers age, this is H. nigercors 'Emma', and the other is H. ericsmithii 'Pirouette' which has deep pink flowers which fade to very pale pink. There are dozens of buds, so they should flower for many weeks.
I wonder if I'll get some interesting seedlings from these?
BTW, I had some assistance with taking the photos for this post . . .
I'll add some of the photos to my #100Flowers Pinterest board.