As I get older, I find I am increasingly drawn to simpler flowers. There are exceptions – I still adore the magnificent old double red peony, Paeonia officinalis ‘Rubra Plena’ and admire the passion flower clematis, Clematis florida ‘Sieboldii’. But the simplicity of Paeonia emodi and Clematis koreana are now more my style of plants. Highly bred hellebore flowers with picotee edging or anemone centres have their place in refined planting plans, but for a more natural style, I return to the species.
Helleborus cyclophyllus is a native of Albania, Bulgaria and Greece where it usually grows at the edge of woodland.
It grows on limestone in the wild but seems to be quite happy with my slightly acid soil, growing and flowering for the past six years. Getting to around 15 inches, this is truly deciduous, losing its foliage for winter. Early in the year, new shoots emerge, soon to be followed by striking, apple green flowers, although these can be misshapen unless you are lucky and acquire a good form. Graham Rice observes “the young leaves may have a slightly reddish tint and are covered in a fine coating of silvery hairs on the undersides which become less pronounced as the foliage matures”. He also adds that “because of its southern distribution, this species is inclined to start into growth too early in the season and be hit by frost. Although hellebores are almost impervious to frost damage, bowing to the ground when frozen and standing upright again when thawed, repeated frosting is debilitating and apt to leave it susceptible to attack from black spot”. It flowers best in sun or light shade but tolerates light shade during the summer months.
So find a sheltered spot, track down a supplier, and you can’t improve on this early season flower.