Groff's Plant Farm Images

Helleborus

Published: Thu Mar 30th 2017


This year my 11-year old son gave up playing video games for Lent. He has shown remarkable resolve sticking to his vow. Luckily enjoying the beautiful flowers of the Lenten Rose requires no such sacrifice.

Hellebores, commonly known as Lenten Roses, often bloom from late February through April, when there is just not much else happening in the garden. They come in shade of white, pink, dusky red and purple. Some varieties are double flowering, some speckled. Older varieties flowers nodded downward, but new breeding has been focused on tilting the flowers up, to better enjoy their faces.

At our house we have some growing at the base of azaleas along the edge of the porch. They were just about to bloom when Mother Nature dumped a foot and a half of snow and ice on top of them. Then I dumped more shoveling off the walkway. Luckily, once the snow melted, they bloomed on undeterred. A plant that not only blooms in the winter, but through snow? Sign me up.

Hellebores are native to mostly Eastern Europe, where several different species flourish. Most of the varieties grown in American gardens are hopelessly intermingled hybrids to improve the flower size, color and number of blossoms. Very slow to bloom from seed, often requiring several years, hellebores hybrids are propagated primarily by tissue culture. Any seedlings that do spring up in your garden are unlikely to look exactly like its parent. If you see different colors than you remember planting, that’s why.

Hellebores are evergreen, though in the late winter the foliage can look a little tatty. Once you see the new growth emerging, clip those older leaves off to better enjoy the blooms. They prefer partial sun in well draining soil containing organic matter. Hellebores do well along the edge of the woods, in a woodland garden, or near a porch where they will be protected from the heat of the summer. Though native to alkaline soils, they don’t seem to mind our more acidic soils. The key seems to be not keeping them too wet over the summer when they are not actively growing.

Another added benefit is they are extremely deer resistant. They contain alkaloid toxins and were used as a purgative by traditional herbalists. If you have pets that like to eat your plants, maybe don’t choose hellebores. But if you want something blooming in the late winter, that is long-lived, and very hardy Lenten Roses are at the top of my list.