Today I thought that we would take a look at Helleborus orientalis, or Lenten Rose. Hellebores are fantastic plants that are hardy to Zone 4, meaning that they can withstand winter temperatures down to -30 degrees Fahrenheit. They are evergreen and bloom during a time of the year that little else will; they begin blooming in December and bloom up until April in Zone 7.
The Lenten Rose obtained its common name from the season in which it blooms. The word Helleborus can be broken down into its Latin roots as “hellin” which means to kill and “bora” which means food. It is true that Hellebores are poisonous so this makes them ideal for areas that have deer problems or pesky voles. They are generally only considered mildly poisonous if they are ingested and thankfully, there are plenty of other greens for me to eat in the winter. I would take care if you have cats or dogs that tend to graze on your plantings. Animals are usually very good at quickly determining if a plant is toxic but I’d hate to think that Sparky would have an upset tummy because of me.
Lenten Roses make great partners to other plants in the shade garden. As you go further north of Zone 7, you can push them into a little more sun but watch for leaves that start to burn. Just as animals have instincts that we don’t, plants will do their darndest to let us know if they are unhappy with their location. Unfortunately for them, they aren’t able to pick up and move if they are getting sunburnt so we have to watch for signs of distress. They enjoy a moist, well-drained soil that is loose and friable. They can certainly make do with much less but if we’re discussing ideal locations for them, a soil with a generous amount of organic matter is the ticket.
Much effort has been invested in the hybridization of Hellebores in recent years as they fetch a fairly hefty price in the garden center. In the Richmond, Virginia area a 3 qt. container will sell for around $12.oo retail. There are many wonderful color variations available now, including pinks, reds, whites, yellows and purples. Pine Knot Farms, located in Clarksville, Virginia has succeeded in breeding Hellebores that go beyond the attractive greenish-white colors that permeate many of the Lenten Rose’s flowers.
The flowers are often freckled and develop into handsome seed pods if left on the plant. It is these seed pods that spring forth the next generation of Lenten Roses. If the plant is happy in its location, you can expect upwards of a hundred new babies the following year. They transplant easily enough if allowed to obtain a little size before moving.
When you’re looking at adding a few new perennials to your shade garden, why not consider the Lenten Rose? It is a workhorse in the garden that will have all of your friends, gardeners or not, asking what is the plant that is blooming in the snow outside your door. And you can kindly reply that it is a killing plant, better known as a Lenten Rose.
If there are other plants that you would like to see profiled here, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know.