6th December 2015
Helleborus argutifolius .
The week seems to have been dominated by four letter words. I garden on a hill, for example. Sometimes I am going up and sometimes I am going down. The h-word has loomed large all week,
especially emphasied by the r-word, which has continued to fall throughout. On Friday the sun came out for an hour and it was almost shocking to enjoy being out in the garden.
Temperatures remain high but by yesterday morning the w-word had started to blow again. This morning the r-word is back.
I try not to do winter. I stretch autumn out for as long as I can and then leap straight into an early spring. There is always the hope that if I don't acknowledge it, it won't happen.
All of which makes this time of the year especially difficult. I spent yesterday carrying things into the greenhouse to keep them safe from the season that is not quite spring
and not quite autumn that I don't admit to anyway. Conceptually complex day.
I have collected together a few of the New World species of Eryngium which I carried up the hill to the Agave house. On the brow of a bank above me at the top of the hill I
had planted Helleborus argutifolius and the first pale green flowers have opened this week. There is no reason to expect a Corsican hellebore to appreciate my damp windy hillside
but I am grateful for its tolerance and spent a few minutes appreciating it. I considered evicting the Eryngium from the wheelbarrow and having a quick sit down myself
but found lying on the floor easier.
Pushing a wheelbarrow to the top of a hill is really good preparation for appreciating hellebores.
6th December 2015
Helleborus x hybridus 'Early Purple' .
It might seem strange to celebrate spring while putting things away for the year but gardens are strange (and gardeners are stranger). This week it is spring. Anemone x hybrida
flowering with the Fuchsia, Dahlia merckii still sputtering out gobbets of lilac. Spring spring spring spring spring! And spring is full of hellebores, at least in this garden.
I grew up on a thick yellow clay in a garden so flat that it filled with water in the winter and I took a daily paddle down the garden to the greenhouse. Not really classic hellebore conditions,
so it took me a while to become enthusiastic. It taught me the value of the h-word. The slope catches the low sun, sheds the water and inspires long, slow, breathless appreciation from a resting position.
As a young paddling gardener these were details I had not fully appreciated. However beside the greenhouse I had a small raised bed built to extend the possibilities for cultivation
of the thick wet clay and it is simply a coincidence that the greenhouse also had foundations. In 1980 I planted it with all the named hellebores I was able to locate (there were five of them). Two came
from Bressinghams. I was most excited by H. atrorubens, diminutive and early it was an enchanting addition to the garden. It lasted about three years before the heavy soil claimed it
and because it flowered before any of the others, it left no offspring.
Years later hellebore lovers have noted that it was not the real H. atrorubens, a diminutive species from the Balkans, but an early flowering form of H. x hybridus that has since been called
'Early Purple'. It is a funny little thing, not really pretty but irresistible. I bought it again last summer, tiny fragment of nostalgia, a reminder that life isn't so tough on the h-word.
6th December 2015
Helleborus x hybridus 'Colchicus' .
Last week I was looking at the first bud appearing on a hellebore and wondering when the main bed would show signs of growth. This week I have a scattering of flowers around the garden. The spectacular
modern hybrids are not yet showing, breeders have concentrated on plants that flower in February and March (when it is warmer, and pollination is more comfortable) so the early forms
have a wild look to them. Helleborus colchicus is a perplexing name, published by Regel but not easy to relate to any of the currently accepted species. My plant came from Bressinghams along with
'Early Purple' in 1980. It is clearly another H. x hybridus form with pale, cupped irregular flowers but it is early and it is tough. A few years ago I took a division from my mothers garden,
along with a scatter of seedlings it had produced, and now in the shelter of my sloping, humus rich camellia border I have a little homage to thick wet clay. I don't paddle in this garden, I slip on
the surface and do the splits with trouser ripping consequences. The hellebore heads nod with shame. From splashing to flashing, it's astonishing it puts up with me.
This is a surprisingly good flower, lacking the green stripe that is usually present in the outer tepal. The rather ragged shape of the tepals doesn't show very clearly with the flower at this stage.
As it opens more widely its failings become more apparent. For all that, it is the only one of the original five plants that I have kept. 'Early Purple', H. foetidus and
H. argutifolius have been replaced. The black flowered H. x hybridus that came at the same time was dead when it came out of the box and never made it to the garden. I have much better black flowered plants now,
and indeed better whites but I remain very fond of this early, misnamed, ugly mongrel.
Just 65 more years and I will have grown it for a century!
6th December 2015
Helleborus 'Walhero' WALBERTON'S ROSEMARY .
I hadn't been up to the top of the garden for a week, and when I was last there the leaves were still falling and making clammy carpets over the ground. Yesterday spring had started to burst through
with the hellebore flowers. The gap of a week emphasised the change. Down by the house the same thing has been happening but I have been walking past it without noticing. Skipping down the hill with spring in my heart
I passed H. WALBERTON'S ROSEMARY, the first flower open unexpectedly. It is a very strange hybrid between H. x hybridus and H. niger so I should expect it in December
but it was still a surprise.
It is sterile, so it flowers for months and it has the wild look of a species, despite being a rather shocking modern hybrid (there are a small number of clones
that have been bred, all strange and wonderful).
Eventually I finished packing things away in the greenhouse. I have plans for a new Hedychium garden because lugging their pots in and out every year is getting beyond a joke.
They will love it outside (or they won't, I am past carrying). In the next few weeks I will continue to find things that I should move, and some of them will be protected. Others will have to take their chances.
It won't be happening today. The r-word is back, the view from the h-word is lost in the m-word.
During the week people have been pressing cards into my hand. I had completely forgotten the c-word was coming.