hellebores, my old friend
Marie Staunton on why gardeners can rely on a hellebore for life
Hellebores for me are like old friends -- they like a bit of attention, but there's no need to fuss over them too much. They are enduring and loyal and, once given the right environment, will flower beautifully for weeks, from late winter into spring.
I have a friend who has what can only be described as a nursery in her back garden for woodland plants. Thankfully, she is quite happy for me to re-locate hellebore seedlings, snowdrops and aquilegia to my garden up the road.
Hellebore flowers arrive at a time in the garden when the leaves on the trees are not even close to coming out, which means that they receive just the right amount of light to shine.
They aren't that particular about soil type, but if you give them a soil rich in organic matter that won't dry out too quickly then they will thrive and produce an abundance of those beautiful, almost shy-looking flowerheads.
These wonderful plants have flowers ranging in colour from the deepest purple to pure white. My particular favourites are the delicate pink ones; planted en masse they make a real impact in the garden.
They are deep rooters, so if you are lifting them for division then remember to dig down a good bit to ensure you get the entire root. Not only do they divide well but, with a little pat- ience, they can be grown from seed.
If you have a plant or two in your garden for a while, you might notice all the little seedlings popping up close to the mother plant. In time, these can be transplanted around the garden at no extra cost to you.
You can also experiment a little if you like and collect the seed. They require a long germination period, from six to nearly 18 months, so it is a project for those with a bit of patience.
The seed is ready for harvest after flowering occurs -- sown then, it will have a long, hot summer (there's optimism for you) followed by the cool of the winter and the little seedling should appear the following spring.
A couple of names for you to look out for include Helleborus 'Pink beauty' and Helleborus niger, which is a very beautiful white one.
They are often referred to as the Christmas rose and legend has it that one was brought as a gift to celebrate the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.
So they can flower from Christmas to roughly April, depending on the variety.
I don't very often come across a book that I would recommend because what I like might not be your cup of tea.
Having said that, if you are planning to grow your own veg this year, get yourself a copy of 'Vegetables For The Irish Gardener' by Klaus Laitenberger.
It's the sort of book that will grow old with you, full of hints and tips for growing veg in this country, written by someone who has a genuine love of growing organically and who has learned to adapt to this climate of ours.
This book, along with his 'Vegetables for the Polytunnel and Greenhouse' is easy to understand, and will become your best pal when you take the plunge and go organic in the veg garden this year.
Both books are available from www.milkwoodfarm.com.
If you have collected all the fallen leaves, remember to add some grass clippings over the course of the spring and summer to speed up the process and you will have lovely rich leaf mould to add to your herbaceous beds next winter.
Grass clippings need to be added sparingly -- just once a month will be enough to add a bit of heat to the leaf pile and encourage them to break down a little faster.