Musings From The Hill — A Lenten Glory

Anticipating more moss, I circle the house and am pleased to find the hellebores growing vigorously. Whatever prompted me to invest in three of these plants fifteen years ago, I know now it was as smart as anything I’ve done (yardwise, at least).

Forty dollars for three was a lot to pay back then – especially now realizing how few of those purchased ever amounted to a hill of beans – or the flower I’d anticipated, for that matter.

Perhaps better known as the Christmas or Lenten Rose, these provide almost year-round delight as I continue to be pleased by their pink blossoms (i.e., mine; I read that they can be white, green or even rosy-purple). What else flowers so readily – so continually – from spring through summer and into the fall? In between, I still have the joy of a large-leaved evergreen plant – at least when these, like everything else, are not buried under deep mounds of snow.

As I write, I reread the old directions: they’d like mulch to keep them moist and cool, April shade, with a fertile and well-drained soil. True to my best intentions, these get none of the above and yet live on quite well. I guess I must be doing something right for, while my three continue to prosper, little ones have popped up throughout the garden. Some are almost as large as their parents while I can identify the shoot by the time it’s an inch tall which gives it a far better chance of surviving my determined weeding.

Wayside Garden’s article further cautions that it is not wise to try to separate these plants for they tend to be brittle. They are, in fact, “happier left undisturbed.” I will admire enthusiastically (nothing wrong with telling them, is there?) as I weed around them, pulling – carefully, of course – the dead leaves beneath. Their green leaves are strong and tend to have sharp points. Tiny red specks pop up on my arms. I’m not aware till I look in the mirror and really can’t complain if their caress is not as gentle as I’d prefer.

I started to count “babies” but was called to the phone and didn’t go back. I’m not that lazy. Truth is there are so many infants (if you will) with even more fully developed plants growing under the umbrella of their parents that I’d have to count stalks to even approximate a number. Besides, I’d forgotten about two mysteries growing among them and checked by camera to “hold” until they can grow into something I might be able to identify.

I guess the plant gets its name “Lenten Rose” because it will – well, can – flower in February or March. It sure isn’t going to force its way up through the heavy mantle of snow. These grow to a strapping fifteen inches or so, hardly a match for a typical Cassadaga winter.

“Christmas Rose” comes with many legends. The one I prefer is that the flower was sent by the angel Gabriel so that a simple shepherd girl named Madelon would have a gift to take to the Christ child. It’s a gift – for any benefactor. And, let’s face it, folks, a fable that does seem to get around.

I also read that it’s known as a cure for madness but no clue as to precisely how this could be achieved.

I enjoyed my notes on my plantings: May 4, 2001, planted. May 9 – “strong!” “Doing OK if not large by July 2.” Obviously my neophyte status shows. These were a first for me and I expected THE miracle . . . daily. Two years later I was still waiting. April 19, 2003: “flowering but only a couple inches high!” A picture in ’04 shows a healthy plant, quite tall (for this hellebores) and covered in blossoms. “Are those babies, August ’05?”

There were fewer notes as the years passed but my delights in this plant continue to this day.

Susan Crossett has lived outside Cassadaga for more than 20 years. A lifetime of writing led to these columns as well as two novels. Her Reason for Being was published in 2008 with Love in Three Acts appearing last year. Information on all the Musings, the books and the author may be found at Susancrossett.com.