A few years ago my then-teenage son convinced me to watch the movie Snakes on a Plane. It’s a movie about—you guessed it—snakes on a plane. Despite the fact that it was an incredibly stupid film, it gave me nightmares. But movie snakes don’t hold a candle to real, live snakes right at home.

This weekend I asked my husband to dispose of two ratty-looking topiary trees that were in large wooden containers on either side of the garage door. I watched from the kitchen window as he dragged them back to the compost pile. They were overgrown and pot-bound, so I wasn’t surprised when he tugged and pulled to try and extricate them from the containers. This went on for some time. I continued to watch as he stood with his hands on his hips thinking about the situation. Apparently reaching  a conclusion, I saw him start in on the containers with a mattock.

And then I watched as he hot-footed it back to the house.

“Those pots are filled with copperheads!”

Now, I didn’t go out to witness it first-hand. It’s not because I’m a big old scaredey cat. Oh, no. Rather it’s because I have complete trust in my husband’s powers of observation and reporting of the local wildlife. I mean, if he says copperheads are out there swarming by the dozens, I don’t really need to go out and verify it with my own eyes, right? A marriage must be based on trust.

I hope it didn’t violate any Maryland state wildlife laws, because I’m going to tell you right here that Harry screwed up his manly courage, went back out and committed mass snake-icide. He was running around with a shovel smacking at the ground, hopping around and looking very threatening. I was afraid of him. I think he got most of the little buggers. I got nightmares.

Okay, so that I don’t leave you with that horrible image I’ll share some garden photos to calm you down. Let’s talk a little bit about hellebores, shall we?

One of the reasons I adore hellebores as much as I do is that they give me hope in the bleakest months of winter. Regardless of what I do, these babies show their little heads sometime in January and gradually emerge from under whatever nature has thrown their way. I have seen them emerging from under a foot of snow, in the freezing rain and even in those dry winter spells.

I help them along by trimming off the damaged greenery from the previous year, allowing the plant’s strength to be concentrated in flowering. They reward me by blooming and blooming. The flowers hang on through spring and even into summer. These are plants that really pull their weight in the garden.

Bottom left: Helleborus orientalis

Now that they are well-established I am faced each year with relocating or re-homing hundreds of little hellebore orientalis seedlings. Frankly, it’s not a terrible task and I always find takers. I’m looking forward to the time when I have the same issue with the ‘Kingston Cardinal’ hellebores. Massed together, they make a very nice statement while also crowding out weeds and looking good almost the whole year long.

Helleborus x hybridus ‘Kingston Cardinal’

Have you forgotten all about the snakes yet? Good. Whatever you do, don’t think about snakes. Especially don’t think about poisonous snakes in the garden. Dozens and dozens of swarming poisonous snakes in the garden.

(As always, click on photos to embiggen.)


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  • Leslie says:

    That sounds terrifying! You know Indiana Jones would have been running away. Harry is very brave!

  • Gail says:

    Harry is brave and lucky those snakes stayed hidden during all that moving and digging! Love the garden views.

  • Mary Ann says:

    EEEEEEEEEEEK is right. I am glad Harry hacked em up. Yes, I am.

    And now that you have calmed me, tell me what the pretty burgundy shrub is to the left of the door? Gorg.


    • Robin Ripley says:

      Hi Mary Ann,
      Those are Acer Palmatum ‘Skeeter Broom’on either side of the front door. The branches are a little long and it’s on my list to tidy them up near the bottom so you can see the trunk. They are gorgeous 9 months out of the year.

  • Layanee says:

    Oh, I want pictures of the snake dance. Where was your camera? What a hero in Harry. Love the hellebores for the same reasons you do which you so eloquently expressed.

  • I’ve never seen these Helleborus x hybridus ‘Kingston Cardinal’ before. They are fabulous.

  • I’m reminded of the episode of The Simpsons where the town was celebrating “Whacking Day.” I really do have to sympathize with snakes. I would have liked to have seen them.

  • Hellebores we have, snakes we don’t, and I’m happy to keep it that way. I do like that ‘Kinston Cardinal’!

  • Cindy, MCOK says:

    Love that planting by the front door! Hate snakes.

  • Robin, your story of snakes and hellebores reminds me of the day my son and I were out clipping the dead leaves off hellebores above a four-foot tall stone wall. He quickly pulled his hand out when he discovered a harmless (but scary) black snake hanging out in the crispy foliage. I almost fell off the wall and the snake probably suffered permanent psychological trauma! Be careful out there!

  • I’m with Layanee: not one picture??

  • Robin Ripley says:

    Dear Layanee and Kathy,

    No. No photos. Not one.

    See paragraph five in which I reference that my marriage is based on trust, therefore I did not need to risk my life by confronting thousands of poisonous snakes writhing through our yard looking for yummy Robins.


  • Benita says:

    Oh, Robin, thank you! You made me laugh and laugh, because I’m so afraid of poisonous snakes I moved to Puget Sound from Reno to get away from the possibility of confronting a western diamondback rattler. Well, that wasn’t the only reason but I do feel safer in Tiny Tim’s Garden. You are a wonderful writer and I enjoyed it very much!


  • Amy says:

    Hilarious and hideous all at the same time. I must have been in some serious denial for the last 17 years because I have truly convinced myself there are no poisonous snakes in Maryland.

    I officially have the hebejebes. Thanks for sharing :)


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