The stinking hellebore

Don't turn your nose up at this unfortunately-named plant

I’ve always thought that the most well-known name for the wonderful Helleborus foetidus is such a bad one; stinking hellebore makes it sound like some horrible, and maybe even slightly scary, character in a child’s fairy tale...'Beware the stinking hellebore,' you may warn.

Helleborus foetidus

Take a deep breath

I think from now on I'll call it by one of its other common names such as 'bearfoot' which sounds a bit more likable. Of course, if you were to look up the meaning of 'foetidus' it would say that the plant would have an unpleasant smell, but I can’t say I’ve ever really noticed this. Even if it does, the hellebore makes up for it in so many other ways.

A hellebore planting plan

Like all other hellebores its season of interest is over the winter months, and this means that it’s a plant that I like to use on the Winter Walk at RHS Garden Harlow Carr.  The ones that I've planted are under a huge and sculptural Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica) and provide an evergreen foil to the flaming stems of Cornus sanguinea 'Midwinter Fire’.

An architectural hellebore

It's probably my favourite hellebore. There are many others out there with a huge array of interesting colours – doubles, singles and some very frilly ones – but I don’t think you can beat the contrast of the zingy lime green flowers against deep, dark green and very architectural foliage.

The only thing to perhaps keep in mind is that they don’t seem to be terribly long lived. Luckily they will self-seed freely, and if left to their own devices will pop up amongst other plants, often creating fantastic combinations all by themselves. It’s a plant well worth having in my opinion.

Useful links

Hellebore cultivation
Visit RHS Garden Harlow Carr
Plants for winter interest

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