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. Oh, golly, I am sorry for causing you so much angst! Like you, I have always considered the patterns on a Hellebore to be regular, or seemingly so, now you have analysed them in detail I see I was wrong. They are all so beautiful though and so beautifully photographed and presented. I like that you reinstated the cropped out flower, the photo is better balanced for it. And I love the anemone centred flowers – the one on the left I find the more beautiful with its sprinkling of freckles. Thank you Susan for sharing these with us, and for your link. I am left wondering if my love of patterns influences how I photograph flowers and plants or vice versa!

    1. Not exactly angst, more like extrospection (a kind of introspection, but looking outward). It seems funny how I saw your prompt and thought ‘I love patterns and want to take part, but I have no irregular ones to share’ then looked again at these pictures and thought, ‘then again…’.

  2. This is fascinating. Defining beauty is a slippery thing, but contemplating it grounds us, I think. Plants are such coy beings: they make us think they mirror each other, but then we see that there are these subtle, mischievous differences. The more we look, the more we see. I do love that last one, but I was also blown away by the white one and by the anemone ruffles. HeyJude had a great idea.

    1. I’ve always found prompts helpful for my blogging, though I would never have expected to do so. I even discovered a new word (extrospection) in answering her comment above – I thought I’d made it up, but when I came to check if it existed, it not only did, but meant pretty much what I had intended. Either the kind we absorb without realising, evidently, or one it is easy to invent.

  3. Such lovely hellebores! I think that irregularities in pattern keep us looking for longer and draw us in when we see them.

  4. What a fun post! Your photos of Hellebores really surprised me, because it’s not one of my favorite plants at all, but you’ve made them so interesting, and pretty! The narrative is very interesting, too. 🙂

    1. They are very alluring plants for me. It might be partly because we have relatively little else in our borders when they start to flower. Snowdrops hint that spring is on its way, but hellebores make us feel we don’t have to wait.

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