Home > Great Big Greenhouse Blog > March 2014 > BONNIE'S GARDEN--Hellebores


Hellebores. Mine are in full bloom—despite the seriously cold winter we’ve had. They tolerate an amazing amount of shade in my side flower bed and I respect their sheer toughness. It’s hard to imagine that they have a fascinating, if somewhat violent, history! Believe it or not, they are implicated in one of the first recorded incidences of biological warfare. In 595 B.C., the Greek army poisoned the water supply of the city of Kirrha by adding massive quantities of crushed hellebore leaves. This made the citizens too beset with gastric upsets to fight and they were easily overcome by the Grecian army. The Greek leader who ordered the poisoning of the water supply was reportedly an ancestor of Hippocrates, giving rise to the story that Hippocrates was so distressed by what his ancestor did that he established the Hippocratic oath. Hellebores were commonly used by medical practitioners of the time to treat gout, depression, even insanity and, it is said, Alexander the Great may have died from a hellebore overdose when self-treating for depression. Of course, Alexander the Great also had many enemies so it is equally possible that someone else overdosed him. Often called a Lenten Rose, they’re not a rose at all and there are many varieties that do not bloom during Lent. They are a member of the ranunculacaea—the ranunculus family. In other words, they are cousins to anemones, columbines and our charming little buttercups. Hellebores are toxic. This is why they are avoided by deer, voles, and squirrels. They are long-lived and shade tolerant with deeply divided dark green foliage and long-lasting nodding flowers. While they prefer rich moist (never soggy) soil with a neutral pH, they adapt well to a wide variety of conditions. They prefer dappled shade particularly under deciduous trees where they get dappled shade most of the year but full sun in the winter when the trees lose their leaves. Even though hellebores are considered deciduous, they will usually hold on to their leaves through the winter. You can remove the older winter-damaged leaves when new buds first appear, if desired. When planting nursery grown hellebores, plant them at exactly the same depth they were in the pot. Do not allow mulch to accumulate in the center of the plant. Even though they are NOT a rose, a Lenten Rose by any other name….

Posted: 3/10/2014 by Bonnie Pega | with 0 comment(s)
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