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 dawn 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 is 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 parentage is a bit fuzzy, so taxonomists identify them with the scientific name of Helleborus xhybridus. 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.
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.