Monday, February 19, 2007

Lenten Rose

Year-round, lenten rose offers deep green glossy foliage, and better yet it blooms in winter, with a season from February well into April. Its especially welcome on a garden walk on a fine winters day, but be sure to place it where your windows look out upon it for those not so nice late winter days!
These evergreen perennials keep their foliage nice year round, with the previous years laying down as the new greenery comes out in early spring. There it is easily removed to tidy up. The foliage is bold, palmately divided, and is well and thickly presented on a foot or 16 inch-(30 - 40 cm) high mounded plant. The blossoms are rounded, nodding, with a central boss of yellow stamens, and range in color from pure white to very deep red-purple. They stand a few inches higher than the foliage. Often the lighter colors are interestingly spotted, like the clone "White Lady" pictured just below. 

The availability of these plants has greatly improved from years past, with both named clones and improved seed strains now on the market. Some include the blood of multiple species of Helleborus, but often H. orientalis is the predominate type. A sister clone to the above is "Red Lady". Other clones in the catalogs include "Rose Madder", "Heronswood Yellow" "Slaty", "Blue Lady" (actually more of a violet), and "Red Mountain". Seed strains include 'Early Purple', 'Party Dress' and 'Border Mix'. You no doubt can find more!

Above: Naturalized Lenten Rose at Elk Rock Gardens.

The blanket advice often given that these are exclusively shade plants isn't fully correct except in hot climates. They are indeed shade tolerant, but they are also take more sun than they are usually given credit for. Plant them in mostly sunny spots or in shady ones, they will grow well and bloom well either way. Try them under or around taller shrubs too. Quickest growth will result if watered, but as natives of dry summer Mediterranean climates they are very drought resistant.

Making more: These can self-sow and naturalize, and if you wish to sow seed simply collect it in early summer and plant outdoors in loose well-drained soil high in organics. Under outdoor conditions seedlings appear in late spring. Division is possible but the plants are slow to get going again. The plants don't really require dividing and can be left alone indefinitely unless outgrowing their spot.

Heat Hardiness Zones 9 through 1
Cold Hardiness Zones 4 through 9
Height to 16 - 18 in. (00 - 46 cm) in flower, 12 - 16 in. (30 - 40 cm) foliage mound.
Spreads 24 to 36 inches (30 - 90 cm) or more in time.

Botanic Name: Helleborus orientalis or hybrids with other closely related species.
Native from Thrace into Asia Minor.

On left: Helleborus orientalis "Red Lady"

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