What better way to forget about all this 'winter' dullness than to go looking for a few plants! Yes, even in the harshest of winters (although this isn't one) some species do their thing throughout the season. One of my favourites just happens to have a few sites close to home.
Stinking Hellebore (Helleborus foetidus) is a wild species, occurring on shallow calcareous soils in a snaking band running from the south-east of England, through central southern England and into mid-to-north Wales. It is found widely elsewhere, but most of these come from garden throw-outs and escapes. It is a fecund plant, setting seed and spreading with ease - I have it in my garden and find it springing up all over the place. Its appearance in the garden is a bit of a mystery - we had lived here for quite a few years and not seen it, until one popped up and spread. It is quite possible that this was a wild plant, as it is present only a mile away (on Epsom Downs).
This afternoon I visited Park Downs with the sole aim of visiting a population that is found at the edge of a copse on the upper slopes. 20-30 plants are present (above), and a fine sight they were too, all fresh greens shining out in the gloom. The flowers were not fully out (below, and not to be expected yet), plus there were a few maturing 'seedlings' nearby. The bottom photo was taken this spring to show the open flower that exhibits a wine-red rim.
The light was quickly leaking away from the day, adding even more gloom to the gloom, but seeing the Hellebores had lifted my day. I looked across the open slope and saw that sheep had been introduced into a large enclosure. These were munching away at the sward, helping to turn this chalk downland into even more pristine chalk downland. They, and the conservators, are doing a fine job. Come and visit next summer, when the butterfly population will provide ample spectacle, along with a stunning flora. And this is all within a twenty minute walk from my front door.
Just as I was about to head home I noticed a lone Hellebore, away from the others, on the edge of a small copse. This was a little more advanced than the others, and stood prouder.