I watch with anticipation as my flowers return each spring. The daffodils are in bloom, tulip foliage is quickly gaining height; I wait to see the first flower spike on one of my hellebores.
Hellebores, known as Christmas or Lenten rose, depending on the species, long ago fell into favor with me. They are one of those plants that look good 98 percent of the time, take very little attention and bloom early. This is probably why Hellebore was chosen as the Oklahoma Proven plant in 2008.
Helleborus hybridus, formerly H. orientalis, is an evergreen perennial for shade to part sun. Originating in the wooded mountains of Austria, it quickly became a favorite in English gardens and woodland settings.
This plant has large, dark green, five-fingered leaves that, when mature, reach 12 inches in diameter. H. hybridus rarely grows more than 12 inches tall, but undisturbed plant may spread up to 30 inches.
Fleshy flower stems arise from the crown of the plant in time for Lent – hence, the common name Lenten rose. Cream to apple-green blooms flecked with maroon fade to a pale pink in the species H. orientalis. Cross-pollination and selection have opened the garden door to bloom colors that range from cream to dark wine, with butter yellow and dusty pinks no longer uncommon in plant catalogs. I have always preferred the light-colored blooms for the simple reason they show off better in a shaded bed. The dark colors are handsome but I often find the flowers get lost in the shadows.
Blooms often remain six weeks before fading, surviving nighttime temperatures of 10 degrees! Interesting seed capsules develop from the center of the flower in the latter weeks of bloom. It is not uncommon for hellebores to reseed when seed is left to mature. If you desire a large patch, provide soft soil around the plant in which the new seed may germinate and mature.
Today, breeding replaces collection with new varieties being introduced each year. Plant Lenten roses two feet apart in shade, filtered light or morning sun. They look good en masse.
LeeAnn Barton has worked with nurseries for more than 20 years. She digs in the dirt in Stillwater. Direct questions to her by emailing email@example.com.