This is my first real winter in the garden. Last year, the tiny courtyard was still a couple of strips of bare earth, before I built raised beds all around the edges, filled them deep with soil and created something in which I could actually plant.
Before the new garden was created, I remember, all too well, staring gloomily out of the window at the bleak sight beyond. Nothing, not even a snowdrop, to bring some cheer to the dark days. So in the autumn I planted them en masse, along with bluebells (they must be English; the Spanish variety are altogether too fleshy and vulgar) and miniature tête-à-tête daffodils.
Now it is a different picture. The snowdrops are beginning to push fresh green shoots through the dark earth and, given the unseasonable warmth of this winter, so are the daffs. Even the spring narcissi are beginning to shoot, or would be if the cats didn’t keep digging them up. Owning three cats as well as a tiny garden is a form of madness but, as I cannot live without either, it is an insanity that will persist.
Then there are the hellebores, which are already budding, pushing aside last year’s tattered evergreen leaves; best removed now to allow the new growth to emerge. They are a useful winter plant, as they flower from January through to the spring. There are many and various forms from plain white to deep, metallic purple, so it’s a question of choosing them for colour preference rather than species (though purists, I’m sure, would disagree).
My preference is for double white forms freckled with luminous violet, and the one I am keen to acquire as soon as possible is Helleborus Double Ellen White Spotted. Garden centres are fast filling up with hellebores, and there is a wonderful choice available on the internet, so now is a good time to buy.
To my mind, anything that brings winter cheer is welcome, but I am particularly fond of their herbal association. Hellebores were much used as medicines in the past, and were described by the great 16th-century botanist John Gerard as “good for mad and furious men, for melancholy, dull and heavy persons, and briefly for all those that are troubled with black choler, and molested with melancholy”.
In the dark and gloomy days of deep mid-winter, every garden should harbour such an antidote.
Helleborus Double Ellen White Spotted is available from Hayloft Plants, along with an excellent range of other Hellebores