• John R

The Water Woes

This is the tale of the Water Woes. The Woes in this case refers to a few plants in our back garden bed. Hellebores, I’m talking about you. You’re woefully narcissistic and demanding and you can never get enough. Water.


I know people who say their hellebores are completely at peace with their surroundings, that generous watering is not required if the hellebores are provided with basic nutritional needs.

Our hellebores are not those kinds of hellebores. If you give them plenty of water, they will look shiny and perky and full of botanical vitality. But should you let them go without water for the briefest amount of time, say in the time it takes to coil up a garden hose, they will collapse like microwaved sticks of butter.


Sure, when it comes to plant flaccidity, you could make the case for homeowner error. Perhaps the soil simply is too dense and full of clay, which most any gardening book will tell is you is bad and worthy of worrying about. Maybe some bonehead continually neglects watering. But hey, try to keep up with every plant’s special requirements and you can drive yourself crazy—and believe me, it’s a short drive. Let’s agree that a garden is never really perfect (except for those folks up the street whose hellebores look absolutely fabulous).

But come on, our hellebores don’t have to be quite so theatrical, collapsing like stabbed and poisoned Montagues and Capulets. Many other plants in our garden do not react this way to a slightly protracted lack of water. Okay, a few of plants might get crispy leaf edges. Boo hoo. For the most part the plants on our property—I’m referring to the ones that are still alive—have survived in the face of poor soil management, erratic watering schedules and a host of other naturally occurring maladies.

One remedy might be better communication. With that in mind, I offer an open letter to our Helleborus:

Dear Woes—

We planted you because your frondy leaves gave the garden a bit of tropical savoir-faire. In retrospect, however, there seems to have been no plausible rationale for such a sultry garden addition other than one too many rum Collins prior to our visit to the greenhouse where we bought you. We’re not fans of exotica per se; our preference is for plants that survive neglect and ignorance. So your unquenchable thirst runs contrary to our base criteria.

But you do have redeeming qualities. You are a bit glamorous and maybe even racy, especially in comparison to your plebeian surroundings. And you do seem bent on survival despite challenging circumstances, and I can personally relate to that. And you have managed, over the past three years, to produce absolutely magnificent blossoms in December and January in a brazen defiance of winter—providing bursts of color amid the humble hues of winter.

So with that in mind, I give this to you, Helleborus, with my hose in hand—the garden hose, to be clear—raining water on your broad leaves as the mulch darkens around you, a poem:

While the wind pulls through the Brewer’s spruce

and the branches ebb and flow,

and finches flit a whole bunch of flits,

I like being in the garden with you.

(it’s better if you say that last “you” like a Brooklyn “yo.” Then it rhymes with “flow.”)


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