I don't really want to get caught up in the whole “who to tip and how much” debate on a simple garden blog; but then I never really wanted to get caught up in a garden blog either, so what I want clearly has little if anything to do with the content or existence of what you are about to read. What can I say? Keys get mashed, topics barreled into, and I'm just kind of dragged along, kicking and choking, behind the rowdy old writing horse I keep thinking I can tame. Which makes you, I guess, some sort of leering spectator who, for some reason or other, enjoys the disgraceful spectacle. I can't say I blame you—everyone enjoys a good train wreck.
All that being (regrettably) said, there is one standout member of the plant community whose reliable and unwavering service is in long-overdue need of some recognition and gratuity. I'm speaking, of course, of the courageous, the honorable, the rugged and downright … um, pretty … sentinels of the garden's Winter Guard: the hellebores.
Sure, everyone is quick to ooh and aah when they're on display at the nursery: up on shelves, in pots; gorgeous, moody colors paraded like caged, exotic animals. Any plant can (and should) look vibrant and healthy in such a controlled environment. What people often forget, however—especially those who do not have plants of their own—is that hellebores provide this thankless service even when turned loose in the most unforgiving soils and neglected garden beds.
|Helleborus 'Elly' keeping vigilant watch over Fencebroke South. Still resplendent 2 months after her bloom began.|
Every year, these dutiful, beautiful warriors surge up through frozen ground in the darkest depths of Winter. They cast their soft radiance across the wasteland as a strong but gentle light, penetrating gloom and despair for weeks into months—however long gardener or passerby is in need of a firm reminder that all the outside does not necessarily suck in the barely-days of year's end.
So I urge you all, the next time you come across one of these lovely stalwarts standing their faithful watch, please offer a small token of your appreciation. My rule of thumb for gratuity is 20% of the hellebore's original purchase price. This usually calculates to about $2-$5, which sum I fold neatly and tuck into the unfurling leaves in late Winter/early Spring. To what ends the hellebores use this bonus, I cannot say, only that the money is usually gone by the next day. Hellebores are a prudent bunch; I suspect they deposit the funds in savings as soon as my back is turned.
If you find yourself in the presence of a worthy hellebore, but short of cash, I am quite certain any small gesture of thanks would be similarly appreciated: a small bow or curtsy; a tip of the cap; a soft but earnest round of applause; a honk of the car horn as you drive past; even a brash high-five would go some ways towards assuring their happy return next Winter when our downtrodden spirits are once again in need of their guiding light.