Pleasure of picking the first hellebore

On a cold, dreary day, few things seem more uplifting than bundling up and making an effort to step in the garden; and, while most of the vegetation is asleep or barely coming out of dormancy, I can find cheery blooms of crocus popping up at all sorts of unexpected places, a sure fix for the winter doldrums.  However, recently, on one of my such adventurers outside, I was not prepared to see what I did: the clumps of hellebores growing in the shade of camellias had put forth blooms. Tucked all the way down, almost near the base of the plants, nestled among the old and new foliage, the shy flowers along with unopened buds were beginning to make their appearance despite the cold wintery weather.

Clearly, winter doesn’t faze this early blooming perennial. Also known as Lenten Rose, hellebores are indeed a delight to have in the garden for their gumption to bloom at a time when not very many plants would dare to. Thankful for going in the garden, I went down on my knees to reach for some pale green leafy stalks and the delicate flowers so as to bring a little bit of nature indoors. Having the luxury of bringing home-grown cut flowers inside in the middle of winter is truly exhilarating thus not a surprise that Lenten Rose, Helleborus x hybridus, was named to be the Perennial Plant of the Year for 2005 by the Perennial Plant Association.

Carefree, easy to grow, sports evergreen foliage, disease resistant are some of the attributes of  hellebores, the perennial that toughs out cold weather only to put forth such extraordinary flowers. Ranging in color from white, green, pink and rose, the flowers tend to nod gracefully, creating an aura of mystery to this shade loving plant.

My acquaintance with Lenten Rose goes back to over a decade when a fellow master gardener casually mentioned the uniqueness of this winter bloomer as the two of us were manning a clinic table at a local garden center. Since then, hellebores have occupied a special place in a partially shaded location in our garden, requiring little care since then, except for an occasional application of Plant-tone. Lately, however, I have noticed a significant decline in flowering, giving me a signal that it is time to divide the clumps. So, among others, I have made a mental note to not to neglect this task any more. Spring, I can see, is going to be quite busy.   

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