Hellebores, Part II (page 2)
by Marge Talt (mtalt(at)clark.net
Known as the stinking hellebore, although I've never noticed an off odor about them, H. foetidus is a lovely, although relatively short-lived plant for shady gardens. They will actually take quite a bit of sun, especially in cooler climates. They seed around a good deal, so new plants are always coming on to replace those that fade out. The species has received the AGM, an affirmation of its value in the garden. It's early flowering and easy to grow.
The pale green flowers are small, about three quarters of an inch (2 cm) wide from beautifully formed buds, but so numerous that they light up the garden in late winter or early spring. Most flowers are tipped by a very narrow band of burgundy-purple. Even before the flowers open, the pale green flower bracts make a glowing contrast with the dark leaves.
There are a few cultivars of H. foetidus, of which, 'Wester Flisk' is the one I grow. Like the European native species, it can reach up to two and a half feet (75 cm) tall and, if particularly happy, four feet (1.2 m) across. The leaves are darker than the species, a dark black green with a slatey cast, which sets off the pale flowers. You can see the narrow, fan shape of the leaves in this photograph.
The distinguishing characteristic, however is the red staining on the stems and petioles. This is variable with seed-grown plants; some exhibit much more red than others. Really fine forms carry the red up the flower stems.
If you want to encourage this trait, you need to rogue out those who don't show it by the time they are a year old. This is something I have a hard time doing, but I am going to try to at least cut back the flowers before the pale-stemmed plants go to seed this year!