Helleborus orientalis

The Lenten rose, a lovely plant from Greece and Asia Minor, will tolerate quite deep shade and looks best among shrubs. In my own garden there are a few groups in the shadow of laurels, interspersed with snowdrops, though I prefer them among my airier deciduous shrubs, like Kolkwitzia amabilis.

This hellebore is evergreen, new, deeply cut, exquisite leaves appearing when you cut away the old leaves in autumn. The flowers follow in very early spring and there is a succession over many weeks. These are saucer-shaped and nodding, two or three on each stem, and highly variable in colour, white, green, pink, crimson or purple, the petals speckled inside, the conspicuous stamens creamy-yellow. All are hybrids and cross freely, seeding all over the place, but the young plants should be selected as soon need regular mulching; they enjoy lime. Margery Fish used to plant some in a raised position so that she could look into the speckled saucers without crawling on the ground, but this would be risky in a dry garden with over-sharp drainage.

As they flower, for, though you may get an enchanting new colour from your lucky dip, some of the shades may be muddy and will spoil your tapestry. They like a rich, well-drained soil and can be cut off and floated in a bowl for table decoration, and will then last well.

A very similar hellebore, though not evergreen, is the deep crimson H. atro-rubens, which flowers even earlier – I usually discover a few blooms on Christmas Day.

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