Helleborus foetidus

This winter-flowering perennial is one of the greatest of all evergreens, a beautiful plant every day of the year. In early winter it shows promise of the colours to come, a rare combination of pale green with very dark green, for then the pale flower buds begin to break away from their sheath of bracts, while the leaves, deeply cut into long, tapering fingers, are so dark that they are almost black, In the following weeks, the buds slowly swell, and by late winter have burst their covering to reveal crowded, drooping clusters of bell-shaped, light green flowers usually rimmed with purple. These will continue to expand over months, and are still decorative when the seed pods have formed. When at last you cut down the flowering stems, the dark green basal leaves cover the ground until the cycle starts again. The mature plant is up to 2 feet (60 cm) tall.

Helleborus foetidus, which is widely distributed in Europe, will grow almost anywhere, so long as it has good drainage, and will tolerate dry shade. I have seen it most often in the wild in open woodland (though sometimes on chalk cliffs) and think it looks best among deciduous shrubs, perhaps winter-flowering ones, like the yellow, scented Chinese witch hazel, Hamamelis mollis.

Plant this hellebore in random groups, not less than 2 feet (60 cm) apart.

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