Lenten Roses – A Bright Spot in Winter

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Stephanie Hudak

Stephanie Hudak

By Stephanie Hudak, Columnist

Lenten Roses are wonderful plants. But one thing they are not — roses. So what are they? One of the best shade plants you can put in your garden. They are deer and rabbit repellent and have few diseases problems.

Their correct name is Helleborus x hybridus and they are wonderful additions to a shade garden. Blooming anywhere between now and mid spring, depending on the weather – which is where they get their common name – blooming around Lent!!!

The Lenten rose is an evergreen plant, which grows to about 18 inches tall, has dark green, leathery, shiny foliage. New growth generally comes out in January or February and is followed by the 3 – 4 inch flowers, which are usually white to lavender in the common varieties but lots of great new colors have been developed.

One of the best things about hellebores is that they hold their flowers for eight to 10 weeks before they begin their fruiting period. So you get to watch the flower petals change ever so slowly from their original color to a softer, paler version. Now here is the good news.

They propagate easily. The seeds drop from the flower heads and happily grow until you have a large bed. If a large bed isn’t what you need, just pluck out the little plants and throw them away, or you can easily plant them in little pots and give them away as gifts.

Once you get a bed of hellebores established they tolerate drought so there is no need to run out with the water hose daily. In extreme drought they might appreciate a drink and will quickly perk up. If the leaves do get messy looking, a “hair cut” just before the flowers emerge will clean them up and you’ll be able to see the flowers better.

Even though I said these are shade plants, they really can take some sun. You might just have to give them a few more drinks of water. Hellebores are great companions for autumn ferns which are also evergreen and the textures are good contrasts.

Larger companion plants that work well with them are acuba and illicium. Another great plant to use with them is daffodils. As you allow the foliage of the daffodils to die down, as we should, the hellebores will cover that not so great looking stuff.

One of the best places to get hellebores is from Piccadilly Farms in Bishop. Sam Jones has been growing the best of the best for years. Along with these standards he has great conifers that would also work great in the shade garden.

Besides common Lenten rose there are awesome cultivars on the market. The normal hellebore has a drooping flower head, but there are new ones that have an upright, perky flower….and they come in every color you can think of….some even have double petals.

How much better can this plant get. The specialty cultivars are a little harder to find, but check out Thomas Orchards Nursery & Greenhouse in Bishop.

They always carry good ones and the “Ivory Prince” series is really nice. It has an upright flower head that is big and bright. Now is the best time to check out these plants so you can see the color of their flowers. I know it isn’t the time of year when we think about planting but treat yourself to a great plant that will reward you with lots of color and little work. Hugs to all.

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