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Hellebore Witchcraft

Hellebore Witchcraft


Invisibility powders and Flying ointments. Stories about the fascinating Hellebore never fail to amaze.

One of my favourite flowers of all time is definitely the Hellebore. These Winter and Spring flowering herbaceous evergreen perennials, native to Greece and Asia, are one of the plants in my garden that is always rewarding to look at.  All through the year the shiny leathery foliage forms areas of striking texture in the border and in Winter and Spring, well, just look at the flowers on this beauty. Stunning, unapologetically large petals sit at the top of elegant rose tinted stems. The cup shape of the petals also reminds one of the rose, making it is no surprise that the Hellebore is also called Christmas, or Lenten Rose. Interestingly, the name Christmas rose is said to come from an old legend where the Hellebore flower sprouted in the snow from the tears of a young girl who did not have a gift for the Christ child, when he was born in Bethlehem.

What fascinates me about the flowers is the variety of flower, one plant has on it.   Where some flowers are just opening and have a series of concentric, star shaped stamens, others are already more advanced and have developed magenta coloured seed pods which sit in striking contrast to the now more orange-yellow stamens in the background. No two flowers are the same on the one plant and this makes for a very varied and interesting flower for arranging in vases. Particularly this variety, the Helleborus ‘Penny’s Pink‘ works so well with many other plants in a vase such as Violets and Freesias. If you are planning to use the plant in flower arranging then it would be highly recommended to wear gloves as the sap of this plant is poisonous and irritating to the skin. For longevity it is worth noting that the lowest cut part of the stems should be conditioned by plunging them into boiling water for about 30 few seconds. This will make the flowers last much longer.

The Hellebore plant has some really fascinating facts attached to it. In early days of medicine the Black Hellebore, which is said to originate in the ancient Greek city of Antikyra, was said to have been frequently prescribed as a purgative by Hippocrates, the father of medicine. It was also used to treat a variety of illnesses ranging from gout and epilepsy to paralysis and it was even said to cure insanity!

Poisonous plants often have wonderful magical associations, think of the fairies living inside our native foxglove, and the Hellebore has some stories of its own. In the middle ages the flowers of the Hellebore were strewn over the floor of houses to ward off evil, especially the evil of witches. The flowers, which are said to have hallucinatory qualities, were used in witchcraft for many purposes from deadening of pain to creating a special powders which was both considered a ‘flying ointment’ as well as causing invisibility.

So, taking that these plants represent a slightly darker side of garden mythology it seems fitting that Hellebores like a bit of a shady spot in the garden. They also don’t like being moved once established so make sure you find the right spot for them when planting. In late Winter you can trim back the  old leaves before the first buds emerge as this will allow the flowers to really stand out! Oh and one last thing, Greek witches are said to have faced east and cursed while cutting the Hellebore…just saying.

Plant source: Homeland, Sligo.



100 year old Hellebore

If the Hellebore is in the right location and happy then it tends to self seed quite freely. I recently came across a post on facebook by Deborah of Terra Nova Gardens in Limerick saying that she had too many seedlings to ever use herself. What a fab complaint. I will definitely be taking a trip to see her garden which has many varieties of Hellebore including doubles, picottes and anemone flowering types. Deborah also has a wonderful white flowering specimen which is said to be over 100 years old! The award winning garden has been featured in many magazines and features many rare and unusual plants. It also has a gift shop and a nursery. Terra Nova is open by appointment from April to September.  To make an appointment Telephone + 063 90744 or visit Terra Nova Gardens on facebook.


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Gardens by ROADS

This book, which is published by Danielle Ryan’s ROADS group as part of its Reflections series is a beautifully designed celebration of green spaces around the world. The featured gardens cover everything from the Taj Mahal to the Eden project in Cornwall and our own National Botanical Gardens and the generous size of the pages allows pictures such as the Wisteria in the Schau and Sichtungs Garden in Hessen, Germany to translate the feel of the space better than any text could.  The book sees the topic gardens approached in the typically modern and minimalist way that ROADS brand takes on all projects and in the process shows how gardens mirror who we are and how we live in our green spaces. A lovely book, perfect for the coffee table and of course for dreaming of your next exploration trip. for more info go to


Readers Question

Dear Leonie,

I have lots of different currant bushes in my garden. Blackcurrants, red and white. Every year I have problems with them. Fist of all the bushes are out of control in size but I don’t know when I should cut them back. Once the fruit is ripe the birds come and devour the crop within a couple of days. I would love to make jams and cakes with them but have never managed to have enough! What can I do? I would also like to know how to get the best out of them-do I need to mulch them? At present the lawn pretty much grows up to the base of the plant.

Many thanks,

Marilin, Co. Leitrim

Hi Marilin,

Thanks for your email. How lucky are you to have so  many mature currants in your garden…but yes, it is a serious pain if all the waiting for them to ripen ends up with you not being able to enjoy them!  The first thing to know is that red currants and white currants are very easy to grow and all need similar treatment. They grow their fruit on spurs of old wood (two to three years of growth) whereas the vigorous Blackcurrant can withstand a serious pruning, at times even low to the ground. With white and red currants as well as gooseberries look to cut the oldest wood in about March with the best shape being an open framework with a slightly hollow interior. Also, cut each branch about a third as this will encourage growth.

With Blackcurrants you can get away with cutting the plant right down to the ground with the plant then producing lost of new shoots which will actually fruit even in year one. They will however be at their best in year two, with the crop being most abundant. The best time to prune the Blackcurrants is after they have fruited in Summer.

With regard to sunlight, Blackcurrants love more light than the other bushes so keep this in mind when planting new ones. I have actually taken cuttings from the Blackcurrant and simply placed them in the ground and within a year they have grown into a strong plant so they are very easy to propogate.

Red Currants and white currants grow almost anywhere so a light mulch and while Blackcurrants will need a good heavy mulch with added compost every Spring to be at their best. Having said that, I have some very old bushes that I have never touched with a secateur of compost and they still fruit heavily so it really depends on how good the soil they are grown in is.  It is also best as with trees, to keep the grass off a circle around the  root area and cover it with a small amount of bark.

With regard to the problem of birds stripping the fruit the solution is really the simplest one, just surround the plant in some netting with either bamboo pole structure or even loosely around the bush. If you have a larger amount of shrubs side by side you could think about building a nicely designed feature to put the netting around. For example you could have some arches made up in steel and connect them to form an arched netting area. Then as an added design touch you could plant a few Group 3 Clematis such as the stunning purple  ‘Jackmanii’ or the white Group 2 ‘Henryi’ which are delicate enough to not take away too much light but yet make the arches look really pretty.


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