Have you ever seen this exotic-looking plant?
It is a very old medicinal plant that was listed as a part of a Landis Valley garden at one time and now is enjoying a rebirth of interest as a spectacular decorative plant. You might want to have one in your garden, even if you are not trying to create an heirloom garden. Here’s why…
Landis Valley Village & Museum is working hard to develop gardens that show both the types of plantings that were typical of PA German homes over the past 200 years and the broad diversity of plants that were required in a world where you could not count on a local grocery store, clothing store, or even pharmacy to care for your needs. Most of the plantings to be found around PA German homes in the 18th and early 19th centuries had practical uses more than decorative value.
One of the more unusual plants that is mentioned in a description of one of the early gardens at Landis Valley is the Helleborus Niger. It is often referred to as the “Christmas Rose,” because it typically blooms around Christmas, or the “Black Rose” despite its beautiful white blooms.
We really don’t know much about how the early PA Germans used the plant, but we do know that it was known as a medicinal plant as far back as the early Greeks. It was even claimed to cure insanity, although it is now considered poisonous if consumed in quantity.
It is interesting to see the recent popularity of Hellebores — the common name for this genus in the Ranunculaceae family, which includes monkshood, delphinium, and anemone. With the many hybrids available now (mostly based upon the Helleborus orientalis variety originating in Eastern Europe), Hellebores are showing up at many flower shows and have become a beautiful, if esoteric, addition to gardens everywhere.
Although you probably don’t want to experiment with the plant’s claimed medicinal qualities, you certainly can enjoy the exotic beauty of this four season eye-catcher. It’s hard to say what its best qualities are, because it has so many to choose from.
Is it that its mounding woodsy-looking foliage creates a wonderful evergreen structural element to your garden all winter? Or is it that, just when you are ready to give up on spring ever showing its face again, its amazing blooms begin peeking up through the snow or debris in the garden? Or is it that, while the initial early spring blooms are spectacular, they gradually change to a different shade as the warm season progresses? Or perhaps it is that as the season progresses, the blooms hide more and more teasingly under the lush foliage as a special prize for curious garden visitors who take the time to discover this plants virtues?
Hellebores are truly a continuing surprise.
As you think about how you might incorporate historical plantings into your garden, be sure to check out Hellebores. You may not have the same motives for cultivating them as our ancestors did, but you will probably appreciate them more as bright harbingers of spring that remain faithful garden friends all through the rest of the year.