These are the Hellebores that live in our garden, and who, as we speak, are preparing themselves for a second night of -5C weather under a star filled sky.
And here are a lot of interesting facts and myths about Hellebores through the ages, - perhaps more than you ever wanted to know, but they are a lovely and welcome flower when winter is coming to an end.
Hellebores are widely grown in gardens for decorative purposes, as well as for their purported medicinal abilities and uses in witchcraft. They are particularly valued by gardeners for their winter and early spring flowering period; the plants are surprisingly frost-resistant and many are evergreen. Many species of hellebore have green or greenish-purple flowers and are of limited garden value, although Corsican hellebore (H. argutifolius), a robust plant with pale green, cup-shaped flowers and attractive leathery foliage, is widely grown. So is stinking hellebore or setterwort (H. foetidus), which has drooping clusters of small, pale green, bell-shaped flowers, often edged with maroon, which contrast delightfully with its dark evergreen foliage. H. foetidus 'Wester Flisk', with red-flushed flowers and flower stalks, is becoming popular, as are more recent selections with golden-yellow foliage. The so-called Christmas rose (H. niger), a traditional cottage garden favourite, bears its pure white flowers (which often age to pink) in the depths of winter; large-flowered cultivars are available, as are pink-flowered and double-flowered selections.
The most popular hellebores for garden use, however, are undoubtedly H. orientalis and its colourful hybrids (H. × hybridus). They flower in early spring, around the period of Lent, and are often known as Lenten hellebores, oriental hellebores, or Lenten roses. They are excellent for bringing early colour to shady herbaceous borders and areas between deciduous shrubs and under trees.
In the early days of medicine, two kinds of hellebore were recognized: black hellebore, which included various species of Helleborus, and white hellebore, now known as Veratrum album ("false hellebore"), which belongs to a different plant family, the Melanthiaceae . Although the former plant is highly toxic, containing veratrine and the teratogens cyclopamine and jervine, it is believed to be the "hellebore" used by Hippocrates as a purgative. California corn lily is similar in appearance to V. album and has sometimes been mistaken for it. "Black hellebore" was used by the ancients in paralysis, gout and other diseases, more particularly in insanity. "Black hellebore" is also toxic, causing tinnitus, vertigo, stupor, thirst, a feeling of suffocation, swelling of the tongue and throat, emesis and catharsis, bradycardia (slowing of the pulse), and finally collapse and death from cardiac arrest. Although Helleborus niger (black hellebore or Christmas rose) contains protoanemonin, or ranunculin, which has an acrid taste and can cause burning of the eyes, mouth and throat, oral ulceration, gastroenteritis and hematemesis, research in the 1970s showed that its roots do not contain the cardiotoxic compounds helleborin, hellebrin, and helleborein responsible for the lethal reputation of "black hellebore". It seems that earlier studies may have used a commercial preparation containing a mixture of material from other species such as H. viridis, green hellebore.
Several legends surround the hellebore; in witchcraft it is believed to have ties to summoning demons. Helleborus niger is commonly called the Christmas rose, due to an old legend that it sprouted in the snow from the tears of a young girl who had no gift to give the Christ child in Bethlehem.
In Greek mythology, Melampus of Pylos used hellebore to save the daughters of the king of Argos from a madness, induced by Dionysus, that caused them to run naked through the city, crying, weeping, and screaming.
During the Siege of Kirrha in 585 BC, hellebore was reportedly used by the Greek besiegers to poison the city's water supply. The defenders were subsequently so weakened by diarrhea that they were unable to defend the city from assault. Some historians believe that Alexander the Great died because of a hellebore overdose, when he took it as medication.
For more posts on H visit here at ABC Wednesday, with thanks to Mrs. Nesbitt and her kind helpers.
On nice days, when the sun is shining and the wind is resting in the hills we go out into the garden, knowing full well that March will visit us with cold and blustery days while Spring goes calling elsewhere.
Today was such a day, - nice warm temperature but the wind came in gusts when Caspar and I went out early this morning, blowing his newly shampooed coat in little curly swirls and my hair into wild disarray.
(a windswept dog from Flickr, but he could be Caspar's cousin)
(windswept hair from heaven knows where)
This was definitely not a garden day. After breakfast and a little visit and gossip with our youngest daughter Charles retired to the mud room and his project for the day, whilst I examined some oranges that seemed to be losing some of their freshness and decided on Orange Muffins to cheer up the day in general and coffee time in particular.
It wasn't a 'wash the inside windows' day, either, - mainly because I was tired and not inclined that way. So I read a little bit. Bonnie Burnard's first novel and Giller Prize book 'A Good House'. The Montreal Gazette says of this book "It's the small details, bits of ordinary life, that make this story real. These are the kinds of characters we can't help growing attached to; we wish them well and worry for them-een after we've set Burnard's book aside...Burnard is such an accomplished story-teller that she manages to blur the line between fact and fiction."
I have recently read Burnard's latest novel, "Suddenly" and I found the story and the matter of fact way of telling it equally compelling. She brings her characters to life, and they occasionally reminds you of someone you knew, someone you met or someone you loved.
When my eyes got tired and lost their focus I picked up my knitting. This will be the eighth sock in the Christmas series, - as elegant as a work sock can be in black with white toe and heel and one discreet stripe up near the top.
Charles appeared out of the mudroom some time around twelve, - went to hang on his inversion table (stretches the back) and I made a lazy lunch of toasted mushroom soup sandwiches (deliciously easy, - daughter's recipe).
A little nap, a quick trip to town to get groceries and birdseed, and before one could say Jack Robinson it was happy hour!
When Caspar and I went out again before supper the wind was back in hiding and it was pleasant as we passed the garden, - I was wont to bend over and dislodge a little coutch grass from around the chrysanthemums, but further thought made me decide they were going to have to be dug up, the coutch grass was going to have to be painstakingly removed from the roots and the surrounding soil, and then they could be replanted (the chrysanthemums, - not the coutch grass - although you can bet your bottom dollar that some wee snippets of grass will slip into the pristine soil to start next year's crop).
Will it be this pleasant in the morning? Even if it is, alas it will not be a garden day as The Ladies are coming for lunch - which means it will be just as pleasing and fun besides. The Ladies are all widows and old friends, so Charles' presence at lunch always adds a certain welcome masculinity, and he is ever gallant and ever entertaining. A little spice to the gathering....