The Reluctant Traveler Looks for Hellebores

It’s January 14, midway through the wintry month, 8 days past Epiphany, my day for recognizing increasing light exposure. This is also the time I start parting the spontaneous mulch from my Empress tree and begin to look for hellebores. And I don’t travel much.

I inherited these plants from close friends, gardening experts who can rattle off plant names in Latin, English and probably two additional languages. In their beautifully planted ½ acre garden north of Seattle, these hearty gems have happily reseeded—not a lucky phenomenon in my crowded and (sadly) lamia (a pretty variegated thug and King County noxious weed) over-run garden.

This is how pink hellebore looked ten days ago, raising full buds from the ground as it does reliably  in January.

We are in a balmy period of grayness and 58 degrees and the garden is interested, peering sleepily around, deciding whether it should wake up. Flowering current is swelling buds, the dogwood down by the river is showing a bit of yellow spidery flowers. Forsythia will not be far behind, nor the weigela. And narcissus will poke from the ground soon, if not already.

Hellebores were identified as a genus by “the father of modern taxonomy”, Carl Linnaeus in 1753. They are also poisonous, and if consumed in large amounts fatal, at least that’s what Wikipedia tells me.

This is what they look like this morning.

My garden is a creation of my vivid imagination, not so much planned as given birth to. As a child I used to ride my bike to my grandmother’s apartment, a creaky, musty-smelling eyrie on the top floor of what was once a grand two-story home. I loved visiting her, eating Mother’s Taffy Sandwich cookies straight from the refrigerator, playing Canasta and Scrabble and always losing, and finally, a little time to explore the back garden of the former grand two-story home.

It was, like my garden now, a tangle of eucalyptus, pepper trees, gnarled grape vines and straggly roses. (No eucalyptus or pepper trees here, but instead a catalpa and the Empress, among others). My grandmother’s rented garden had a dried up stream and fountain, dried up bird-baths, and a falling-down arbor where, legend told, a wedding had once taken place. The place smelled of leaf mold and licorice and baking bread. Every time I was there, until my grandmother came to live with us, I became someone else, an explorer, Nancy Drew, or an insane witch.

I’m a lot—a lot—older now and I don’t think of Nancy Drew that much any more, but my garden feeds me the same way. Dear reader, do you also have a place where you go to lose yourself?

Warwick Castle doesn’t believe it’s January, and here’s a bonus amaryllis, just for eye candy



About Jill Zeller

Author of numerous novels and short stories, Jill Zeller is a Left Coast writer, 2nd generation Californian, retired registered nurse, and obsessed gardener. She lives in Oregon with her patient husband, 2 silly English mastiffs and 2 rescue cats—the silliest of all. Her works explore the boundaries of reality. Some may call it fantasy, but there are rarely swords and never elves. More to the point, she prefers to write as if myth, imagination and hallucination are as real as the chair she is sitting on as she writes this. Jill Zeller also writes under the pseudonym Hunter Morrison


The Reluctant Traveler Looks for Hellebores — 6 Comments

  1. I plan to add some hellebores to my shady sideyard in the spring. Yours look lovely.

    Dead of winter here in NE Illinois. I have some indoor flowers–violets, kalanchoe–but I’m longing for outdoor warmth and color.

  2. Those are spectacular flowers. Right now I have camellias growing in our minuscule front yard (about the size of a bedsheet). Roses are proliferating in the equally tiny patio, as it’s pretty much summer year round here. I’ve noticed a slew of new plants coming up that will be lilies in about four months.

  3. I’m sitting here slack-jawed contemplating the possibility of a garden awakening in the dead of January. Can you say “polar vortex” anyone?! Mind, we did have a robin sitting in our tree a few days ago, but I believe it had just frozen its little bird brain and got hopelessly disoriented.

    Nothing growing in my neck of the woods but snow banks. Sigh.

  4. We walk at the local nature preserve most days. Back in late December, we saw some early narcissus blooms. Then there was unusual snow. This week we’ve been gloating over swelling jonquil buds. Yesterday there was unusual snow. This is a disturbing trend.

    • Well, at least you have unusual snow. Ours is just the usual kind: cold, wet, and interminable. Oh, and copious…

      It wouldn’t be half bad if the sun would just agree to make an appearance for more than a day at a stretch.

  5. The hybrid oriental Witch Hazels also usually start to bloom sometime in January in my Cape Cod garden. The first one I planted is at least 15 feet high and more in spread. Lovely little yellow flowers that are so welcome at this bleak time of year.