Winter Hellebores by Swallows & Damsons

by Grace Bonney

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The Hellebore is my favorite winter flower. There is no more welcome a sight in a barren, frosty winter garden than the ever so subtle shy glimpse of a Hellebore. It is an absolute treat to have such a seasonal beauty in a time where little else blooms. Florists and gardeners alike are captivated by something so delicate and temperamental when cut, that can also withstand the hardest ice and snow.

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The name is derived from ‘Helein’ and ‘Bora’, which translates as ‘food of death’. The roots, if consumed are potentially fatal and there is much folklore with the intention of keeping children away from these poisonous plants. I am truly fascinated by this winter bloom, its poetic contradiction in death and beauty.

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It is hugely important that a Hellebore is cut from the garden at the right time in its growing cycle. If cut as a relatively new flower it’s days, even hours will be fleeting and nothing seems to revive these mysterious creatures. There have been many desperate and disappointing times at our shop tenderly cutting, changing water, controlling temperatures, giving pep talks, all to no avail. If however, they are cut when the flower has gone to seed, when the centre becomes more of a bulbous seed head they can last weeks cut in a vase.

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For this arrangement I used a number of different varieties of Hellebore, of which there are so many to choose from. Peaches, pinks, plums, double and single petals. I included Helleborus Niger, Micha Pink Beauty, Purple Price, Helleborus Argutifolius, Black Swan and my favorite, Anna’s Red. –Anna

“As the leaves of Hellebore
Turn to whence they sprung before.
And behind each ample curl
Peeps the richness of a pearl”

-John Keats

Photographs by India Hobson

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When I started to gather the Hellebores for my chosen vessel, a long, shallow ceramic vase, I soon realized that the practicality of arranging would be more difficult than I thought. The nature of this flower is to shy its face away, to hang down. Perhaps it is nodding due to the weight of its majestic head? Or perhaps they are simply used to protecting their faces from the icy cold wind? Whatever the reason it makes it remarkably tricky to arrange on mass.

I created a base with a sparing amount of foliage; I wanted to show off the beautiful leaves that are as much a part of the Hellebores charm as the flower. I used some Spirea branches and blossom, jasmine vine and eucalyptus. I then followed the foliage structure with my blooms. The positioning was key. Some stems would need to be at an angle so that the flower would be front facing rather than their preferred downward face. I selected each flower carefully according to its length and the strength of its stem. The taller stronger blooms I used for height and the shorter weaker stems to hang over the edge and create movement in the piece.

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The flowers hanging over the edge of the vase were perfectly draped, like a woe betide maiden, or like a drama queen florist at the end of Valentine’s Day, desperately seeking sympathy.

Luiza kindly let us into her beautiful home to shoot this arrangement; I had been admiring her incredible green walls from afar (Instagram). When we arrived daylight was sparse, a typically moody grey English January day, which seemed appropriate for these winter loving flowers. This poisonous green worked wonders as a backdrop for these tough yet fragile, beautiful and deadly blooms.

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  • Gorgeous shots! Any chance we could get the photos in sizes large enough to be used as desktop wallpapers?

  • Oh how beautiful! I’m especially fond of the Corsican Hellebores because I love green flowers. Gorgeous pictures by the way.

  • These dark colored flowers are so beautiful. Normally I am attracted to light bright colors, but when it comes to floral, my heart melts for rich dark hues. These are really lovely photos.


  • I sell flowers at an outdoor bi-weekly market in northern Germany. During the cold months we often sell bunches of ‘Christrosen’ (H. niger), usually the white ones though sometimes we have some in the pink ranges.
    My boss taught me that you have to treat them in a certain way for them to last as cut flowers, and when you do they last for a long time. ‘Anschlitzen’ is the instruction. With a sharp knife, slit the last cm of stem. After they get into water, the two sides start to curl up, towards the outside and they look funny. (A bunch of them together sort of look like octopus tenticles ;-) Usually this works for me.
    Beautiful photography. Sumptuous arrangement.
    Thanks for sharing.

  • Those walls (and the flowers obviously) are a gorgeous green color. My search for a good green wall color is what brought me here. Any chance you have the name of the colour or the NCS code? Fingers crossed !