Assessing The Beauty Of Hellebore Hybrids

A plant breeder has the unenviable task of deciding which hybrids to keep and which to discard. The nearest a photographer comes to that experience is when we are in a garden exploring a collection of hybrid plants, deciding which forms to capture.

Pink hellebore with an attractive covering of spots

The nodding habit of most hellebore hybrids forces us to bend and balance as we make our deliberations, lifting each flower head and looking inside. As a general rule, the more regular a pattern, the more photogenic the flower if we are aiming for a fresh look rather than artistic decay, but there are exceptions.

Green hellebore with purple spots backlit by the sun

This month HeyJude is inviting us to join in with her exploration of patterns. She’s made me realise that flowers are all pattern, or if they are not, my love of pattern plays a big part in my fascination for photographing them.

When choosing the green hellebore above, I was interested in the interplay between veins and spots. The pattern seems to be changing character from petal to petal. The clear band around the edge – the absence of pattern – acts as a quiet area, to use a designer’s term. Backlighting adds a radiance that helps the pattern sing.

White hellebore with purple spots and a clear edge

Were it not for HeyJude’s challenge this week, which is to look for disruption in the pattern, I’d have said most of these flowers were evenly spotted. Because I’d looked for regularity as an indicator of beauty, they seemed too similar when I thought about sharing them.

But when I look for disruption in the maroon spotted hellebore above, I start to see a soft green streak or glow where the petal meets the centre of the flower and the disruption spreads from there. A tiny heart appears in the top left petal. Even the outer band seems more free as wayward spots encroach into it.  The green gold nectaries are evenly spaced, but the stamens are wriggling for attention any old way.

Pink spotted hellebore with streak pattern

And I start to notice how lighter steaks lead towards the centre of this spotted hellebore, giving the flower a ribbed look. There’s a narrow outer band, a green tinge in places and the petals are waved at the edges. The full effect is caused by an extra petal. What I thought was regular now seems less so.

I start to wonder about the mechanics of spotting in hellebores – why does a darker or lighter spot appear here and not there? I’ve read that spots predominate in hellebores, so if your aim as a breeder is to achieve a clear colour, such as peach or yellow, any spotted plants have to be excluded from the line, even if they seem likely to move the overall colour in the right direction.

Yellow hellebores are still relatively uncommon and anemone centered ones, even more so. The anemone centered flower on the left is more irregular than that on the right, both in the spotting and the ruffle effect. Does that make it more or less beautiful? I’d have said less when I was out taking the pictures, but now I’m not so sure.

Cream hellebore speckled with purple

There are almost too many patterns to take in here, all of them irregular. The pattern of the leaves above the buds; the speckling effect; the various patterns at the centre; different forms of veining on the flowers and leaves. The bud interested me here, and the sense of progression from bud to open bud, to full flower, to an older flower already starting to form a seed capsule. I tried cropping the top half of this picture out, but reinstated it. Are your eyes being drawn to the small green patch on the top petal of the bottom flower? Blame HeyJude for that!

Close up of beautiful lilac hellebore with darker edge

My final shot is my favourite from the day. The base colour is a lovely shade of lilac, with darker purple veins and edging and just a hint of spotting towards the centre of the flower. The pattern is neither regular nor irregular. The overall effect is soft and luminous, with a lovely quality of light, and all the spring freshness I was looking for.

These spotted forms of Helleborus x hybridus from RHS Wisley are shared as part of the 2020 Photo Challenge.

40 Replies to “Assessing The Beauty Of Hellebore Hybrids”

  1. “When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment.” (Georgia O’Keeffe) Susan, you’ve done just that and how wonderful! My hellebores are almost ready to bloom – I’m sure that I’ll be in the garden next week gazing closely at them, inspired by your photos and your contemplative observations.

  2. Why do Hellebores insist on facing downward? It’s quite rude of them, really. Also, how do you photograph them while holding them with one hand? I’ve used twigs to prop up the blooms so they are facing up rather than down. In any case – such wonderful photographs and beautiful varieties. You’ve really helped me appreciate the subtle differences.

    1. I always imagine they are sheltering their pollen by taking the form of tiny umberellas. I have tried twigs, without much success, mainly on roses. You can often lean flowers on foliage or prop them up on their companions for long enough to take a shot, but these were all held. I use an iPhone and it’s only light, so I can take one handed pictures at a pinch.

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