I like to decorate with live plants at the holidays–and all year round–but I don’t particularly care for the traditional Christmas plants: cyclamen is too gaudy for me, as are Christmas cacti, and I can’t stand the smell of paperwhites. I suppose amaryllis are alright, but I can never get them to bloom on time and, again, I find them a bit showy. Poinsettias are too predictable (and I have cats). So the only flowering plant that I seek this time of year are hellebores, varieties of which are alternatively called “Christmas Roses” (helleborus niger) and “Lenten Roses”. You’ve got to love a winter-blooming flower, and the association with Christmas is based not only on the season but also on the story of a penniless shepherdess who sought to give a gift to the baby Jesus–an angel turned her tears into pale waxen flowers, which were, of course, the greatest gift. Like tears, hellebore petals are seemingly-fragile, especially in contrast to their sturdier stems, and white, like winter (although there are pale pink varieties too–but the Christmas rose is white). There is another dissonance between the virtues of the plant and its seasonal beauty: all of the classical and medieval herbals testify to its toxic qualities.
A succession of hellebores: British Library MS. Egerton 747, Salernitan Herbal c. 1280-1310; two images from the British Museum: after John White, c. 1600 and Mary Delaney, 1770s; early 19th century British soft paste plate from the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, Smithsonian; a Charles Rennie MacKintosh drawing, c. 1901-1914, from the Victoria & Albert Museum, London; one of my potted hellebores, overlooking a snowy Chestnut Street.
December 18th, 2013 at 9:33 am
Lovely Charles Rennie Mackintosh drawing Donna with annotation by him?? saying Walberswick. Walberswick, the only one I know about is in Suffolk – a bit of my childhood was spent there. Excellent seasonal post – hellebores sublime. Happy Xmas + NY to you.
December 18th, 2013 at 9:43 am
Yes, Julia–the V&A text indicates he drew the plant while visiting Suffolk during the holidays in 1901–and the watercolor was made later: http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O120943/drawing-mackintosh-charles-rennie/.
Joyous holiday & wonderful NY to you as well!
December 18th, 2013 at 9:33 am
Very interesting looking flowers..
December 18th, 2013 at 1:04 pm
Beautiful! Merry Christmas and the Happiest of New Years to you and yours.
December 18th, 2013 at 5:03 pm
You too, Vickie. Thanks for all your support.
April 10th, 2020 at 4:16 am
Ps. The original design for this plate was copied from the Curtis Botanical Magazine of 1787 (search internet for Curtis Botanical Magazine Hellebore, it is number 3); many English ceramic manufacturers used these illustrations as material for decorating their wares.
April 10th, 2020 at 5:06 am
Love the plate but it is not ‘tin glazed’ as described in your Cooper Hewitt museum. It looks like English creamware or similar type and was possibly produced by Wedgwood, Neale or Swansea. I have seen a similar border design on a piece of Wedgwood but manufacturers tended to copy one another’s work.