Hellebores or Lenten Rose

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Capture the charm of winter this season with hellebores, also called Lenten Roses. This unique small evergreen groundcover adds color to the winter garden with rich textured, dark green foliage growing in clumps a foot tall and up to 2 feet wide, bearing an array of flower colors from pale green, to cream to mauve, to deepest, darkest burgundy.

The 5 petal cupped flowers can be “single” or “double” depending on the cultivar and they last a long time. The flowers begin showing up in late winter and continue into early spring, brightening up both semi-shade and sunny garden spots when other color is hard to come by.

The matured flowers produce uniquely shaped seed pods that are attractive even after they split open. Just don’t expect the seedlings to look just like their parent plant’s bloom. Propagating this plant by division is the best way to ensure that continuity. Another plus from all this pageantry:  They are not the preferred treat by either deer or voles! This plant, belonging to the buttercup (Ranunculaceae) family has some toxicity characteristics if ingested, so don’t plant in areas frequented by your pets if they have a tendency to nibble on the verge. Wear your garden gloves when handling the plant, as it can cause some skin irritation.

These beauties do best with moist, well-drained, compost-amended soil. They prefer an alkaline soil so soil test to determine how much lime needs to be added, however, they can manage in acidic woodland soil too. They do not like wet feet, so drainage is important for site selection. Once the plants are established they will be resilient assets to your garden. It’s hard to beat a drought tolerant stunner that is also relatively low maintenance, overall. As you refresh your garden beds each year with mulch, spread a bit their way and they’ll be satisfied.

The JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh has many selections of this evergreen plant. Over 40 are showcased on their website in the JCRA’s photograph collection, so visit the Taxa Listing page to see a list of links to some of what’s growing in the garden. One of my favorites is the Helleborus ×hybridus ‘Peppermint Ice’ – double Lenten Rose in deep purple and cream. Well worth a field trip to 4415 Beryl Road, Raleigh, NC 27606-1446.

Minda Daughtry is Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.