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

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