In perennial guru Allan Armitage’s tome, Herbaceous Perennial Plants; a treatise on their identification, culture, and garden attributes, he writes: “Unless hardiness is an issue, no garden should be without hellebores. Period! The budding and blooming of hellebores herald the down of a new season. Strolling by a clump of hellebores on the edge of a path or on a hillside where flowers nod their greetings, the stroller knows that spring has sprung and all is right with the world.”
Despite their ominous-sounding name, hellebores are outstanding evergreen herbaceous perennials that are well-suited for partially to fully shaded areas of the landscape. Their claim-to-fame are their nodding bell-shaped flowers that, depending on the species and cultivar, may appear as early as Halloween and as late as April or early May. The most popular hellebores are actually hybrids comprised of several different species. (The Helleborus genus encompasses a collection of 15 species that are native to Europe and Asia.) The parentage is a bit fuzzy, so taxonomists identify them with the scientific name of Helleborus x hybridus. Everyone else knows them as Lenten roses. Throughout the year they look like two-foot high umbrellas with slender, evergreen leathery leaves divided into 7 to 9 segments. The clumps grow 18 to 24 inches high and 24- to 30-inches wide.
Their show-stopping flowers range in color from pure white to ivory, cream, lemon, and chartreuse. Other Lenten roses bear one-inch wide flowers that range in color from pale pink, rose, dusky purple, to near black. They may be single, semi-double, or double flowers. Often the flowers last up to two months. It’s not uncommon for mature plants to produce 50 or more flowers, which often give rise to numerous seedlings that can be moved or left in place to increase the size of your planting.
Lenten roses require little care. Plant them in shade and water them occasionally in the summer. To get the best view of the flowers, cut back the old leaves in early spring to allow the new leaves to quickly fill in. When cutting back the leaves, wear gloves, especially if you have sensitive skin. Hellebores contain alkaloids that makes them deer-resistant; however, these same compounds can cause a mild dermatitis upon prolonged exposure to the plant sap.
To get the best view of the flowers, cut back the old leaves in early spring to allow the new leaves to quickly fill in. Wear gloves, especially if you have sensitive skin. Hellebores contain alkaloids that makes them deer-resistant; however, these same compounds can cause a mild dermatitis upon prolonged exposure to the plant sap.
Due to their ease-of-culture, the popularity of hellebores has never waned. In fact, as a testament to their beauty and garden worthiness, Lenten rose was voted the 2005 Perennial Plant of the Year by the Perennial Plant Association. It’s one of my top ten herbaceous perennials, partly because of its rugged disposition, but primarily because of its inviting wintertime flowers that help me cope with the cold, dreary days of this season.
Bob Polomski © 2015