In previous years, the answer has had much to do with a season of bloom that doesn’t coincide with the most popular seasons in a garden center, and thus relegates them to ‘specialty plants’ for the discerning gardener. But luckily, things are changing out there.
The incredible variety in hybrids available, paired with ease of acquisition in a digitally connected world has brought these special plants into the spotlight, giving gardeners the chance to showcase them in their own gardens and begin to build winter and early spring interest into the bones of their otherwise high-season gardens.
Lenten Rose: A plant for all seasons
Although there are some species of hellebore that are deciduous, most are evergreen, and sport strong, palmate leaves 4-6” across with serrated margins. Plants grow approximately 12” tall and will spread up to 18” wide. In late winter, tightly-budded flowers appear near the crown of the plant, and as winter transitions into very early spring, the flower stems reach above the foliage and unfold in colors that range from the blackest of purples to the most delicate of filmy pinks.
Greens, yellows, burgundies and purest white – there are few colors that aren’t expressed in the single or double blooms of a hellebore. The nodding flowers invite the gardener to bend down and have a closer look, but in recent years, many hybrids have been bred to hold their flowers upright and facing out from the center of the plant.
The flowers are exceptionally long lived – sometimes remaining for as long as three months or more, yet this has much to do with the fact that they are not actually flowers, but sepals. Thus, as the season goes on, they tend to darken and become coarser. Many gardeners cut back any spoiled late-season foliage as the flowers begin to emerge, but it is important to wait until they have moved past the budding stage, as older foliage can protect the young buds from damage.