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Lenten Roses

The name suggests antiquity, as do the subtle colourings of the fading blooms in March and April

The phrase must originally have been coined to contrast the Spring-flowering hybrids with the pristine purity and earlier season of the familiar Christmas Rose, Helleborus niger.

It may have fitted well for the subdued strains available to Gertrude Jekyll for her 1920s garden plantings – described by one 1930s writer as ruddy purplish, greenish, cream, blush.

But it hardly does justice to the exuberant variety of colour, flower and leaf forms or the longer season of the strains developed in the later part of the 20th century from the work of few enthusiasts like Helen Ballard, who had travelled across Europe to collect seed from wild species for cross-breeding.

The ancestry of the resulting strains is by now so complex that their official title is simply “Helleborus hybrids”.

Several of the best lines are represented in the Frogswell collection. How they came to thrive here, though is a story for the timeline strand.

But thrive they do, and at this time of year it seems only fair to give them centre stage.

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