A picture of a friend in the mountain town of Montreat, popped up on Facebook this week. She was showing her Lenten rose in full bloom. What a treat to know that this outstanding perennial is opening its lovely blooms at midwinter in the mountains as well as the Piedmont.
This semi-evergreen perennial is such a reliable garden flower that I always put it at the top of my list of favorites.
Remember the heat that made last summer so miserable and the flower beds such a challenge? The Lenten roses came through all that like the champions they are, and now is the time to plant and enjoy them.
The attributes of this marvelous plant are many.
• The flowers are very long-lasting. Blooms appearing now will still be on the plant in two months.
• The plant is remarkably undemanding. Most of mine grow in the difficult conditions of dry shade, under the canopy of large oak trees. They carry on without complaint.
• They produce fresh, new plants with ease. Blooms left on the plant set seed. It drops. New plants rise. I have seen Lenten roses transform from seeds on the ground to blooms on the new plant in three seasons.
The botanical name of Lenten rose is Helleborus orientalis. Greenish-white and pinkish-purple are the most common colors of its flowers. In recent years, much hybridization work as been done to breed new, vivid and different colors, and these show up as named varieties of Helleborus x hybridus.
The newer hellebores have made collectors out of many people. These colors include red, darker purples, many tones of pink and even yellow. This hybrid hellebore was the Perennial Plant Association’s Plant of the Year in 2005. Indoors, the flowers look nice when floating in water in a shallow bowl, their stems cut quite short.
Whether you opt for the traditional Lenten rose or one of the modern hybrid hellebores, the essential environmental requirement is partial to full shade.
For those us who garden under trees, this is wonderful. They combine well with certain hardy ferns such as the Autumn, which also tolerates dry shade. This combination of feathery ferns and the broader texture of hellebores makes for a lush appearance that is surprisingly low maintenance.
While they tolerate the dry shade under trees, the plants are helped by the addition of compost to the soil at planting time. This makes the soil looser and encourages root development that creates robust plants. As the flowers mature, you will see pods filled with black seeds. When the pods open, they sprinkle seeds onto the ground, which sprout into seedlings then develop quickly into garden-sized plants to transplant or leave in place. They transplant readily, so you don’t have to fret about that.
Actually, there is really nothing to fret about concerning the Lenten rose and the hybrid hellebores.