Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Hellebore leaves: better with, or without?

"With... or without?" I can hear the impatience in the voice of the optician... what am I talking about? Ah, all of you with perfect sight will never have struggled through this yearly ritual, where the optician is trying to fine-tune the new specs, and holds up a lollipop lens to the one uncovered eye. They ask you if it's better with it - or without it.

Invariably, by this time, I've been sat in a chair in a darkened room for anything up to half an hour or more, dazzled by the screen with the letters on it, eyes still smarting from having bright lights shone in them while being told to look this way, that way, upwards, downwards, all without blinking for what seems like hours at a time: not to mention the horror of the glaucoma test, where they puff air at your eyeball to test its pressure. Sounds simple enough, I know, but I leap a foot out of the chair every time, forcing them to start over again. I can hear the impatience in their voices, I know they want me to sit unblinkingly still, but I can't! I just can't!

Where was I? Oh yes, Hellebore leaves.

Not the usual ones, today: usually I talk about good old Oriental Hellebores, proper name Helleborus orientalis, also known as Helleborus x hybridus, which tells you all you need to know about the promiscuous nature of this plant.  These are the "usual suspects" in our gardens, the one most often planted, which have lovely bowl-shaped flowers in shades of cream to pink/purple.

 But today it's Helleborus foetidus, or Bear's Claw Hellebore.

But in essence, the question is the same - is it better to cut away the old leaves once they start flowering, or to just leave them?

Personally I prefer, in both cases, to remove old leaves. With Oriental Hellebores, the leaves are prone to a nasty disease called Black Spot, which makes them look hideous: but even without any infection, the leaves are usually getting tatty by the time we get past Christmas, so it is definitely Better Without.

Once you have made that decision, you then have to decide if it's better to remove them sooner rather than later: sooner is easier, technically - just chop off the leaves before the flower buds have started to show. Quick, clean, simple. The only problem is remembering not to tread on the area in the next few days, until the buds are clearly visible! So if you know that you are likely to be working in that area, it might be best to leave just one or two leaves in place, as "markers", until the flowers are safely up.

Today the question arose in connection with  Bear's Claw Hellebore,  also known by the horrible name of Stinking Hellebore. Most unflattering. Which idiot said "A rose by any name would smell as sweet"? Wrong! How many of you have Deutzia in your gardens, then? How many of you just said "what's Deutzia?"

It's a beautiful, tough, easy-to-grow, perfumed, flowering shrub, with pretty, white or pink flowers which come in single, double, or frilly varieties. Maintenance free, doesn't spread or sucker, not subject to any particular diseases, and yet I hardly ever find it in gardens. Like Kolkwitzia. And I am certain it's because neither of them have a catchy name.

Anyway, leaving aside this digression into the Naming Of Shrubs, back to our hellebore, and at this time of year the old leaves are generally turning black.

Mmm, tasteful.

Not.  (as the kids say).

So, out with the secateurs and gently snip, snip off all the dead leaves.

Unlike Oriental Hellebores, these ones have big thick trunk-like stems (technical term: caulescent) with leaves all up the flowering stems  so you can't just cut them off at ground level, as you can with the Oriental Hellebores which don't have big thick stems (technical term: acaulescent).

Sometimes you can gently pull them off, but there is always the risk of damaging the flowering stem, so I prefer to cut them.

There we go, all done.

The only disadvantage, as I see it, is that in this particular situation, the blackened leaves did at least create a backdrop for the acid green flowers, and without that backdrop, they are less easy to see against the rest of the greenery.

Not such a problem if yours are growing in mostly herbaceous beds, because in winter they would have bare soil below them.

And here's a closer view of the finished article.

So, what do you think?

Better with, or without? *laughs*

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