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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