The handsome specimen that’s caught my eye is perfect in every way. Long-lasting flowers that bloom in a rainbow of colours, evergreen foliage that looks good all year-round (it gets a bit tattered after our long winters, but what doesn’t?) and it’s perfectly happy growing in shade. Oh, you thought I was describing the love of my life?
Well, the current love of my garden is Helleborus x hybridus, commonly known as the Lenten rose, and it was chosen as the Perennial Plant of the Year in 2005, so obviously I’m not the only one smitten by its charms. The thousands of members of the Perennial Plant Association cast their ballots in favour of this gem which must meet the requirements of all perennial plants of the year, including: 1) suitable for a wide range of climates, 2) low maintenance requirements 3) easily propagated 4) comes true from seed or vegetative propagation, and 4) exhibits interest throughout the seasons.
If you were lucky enough to have visited this year’s Canada Blooms flower show, you would have seen Lenten roses growing in just about every feature garden. They are one of the first of the early spring perennials to bloom, and their flowers look good for up to two months! Well, I call them flowers, but to the horticultural cognoscenti, they’re sepals, but who’s splitting petals? Whatever they are, they’re beautiful – and they bloom in a wide range of colours from the purest of whites and the creamiest of creams to pale pinks, deep burgundies (nearly black ones too) and even a stunning green. Their nodding bell-shaped sepals form single, semi-double and fully doubles, and some are edged in a deeper colour known as picotee.
Because of the attractive, leathery foliage, Lenten roses look good right into the summer and fall months too. Over the winter, the leaves may get tatty, so cut these off to encourage new growth. And if deer are a problem in your garden (thankfully they haven’t become urban grazers – yet!), the leaves contain an alkaloid that keep marauding deer from munching them.
There’s more good news about these wonderful plants – they’re easy to grow. Lenten roses are happy in shade, part-shade or even in dappled sun as long as the soil remains cool and moist. They demand well-drained, humus-rich soil and once established, will tough it out during temporary periods of drought. Helleborus x hybridus is perfectly happy growing alongside other shade-loving plants, including ferns, flowering shrubs such as rhododendrons and hydrangeas and perennials like sweet woodruff, masterwort, bugbane and barrenwort.
Some new varieties of Helleborus x hybridus to look for in the nurseries this season include the Lady Series, a group of hybrids with cup-shaped, slightly upward-facing flowers that bloom in shades of pink, deep red, pink-rose and a deep, dark purple. The Royal Heritage strain of Lenten roses is also worth a second glance. These long-lived perennials produce large flowers and great foliage. Colours range from near black, purple and red to pink, green, yellow and white.
With such a rainbow of colours, handsome foliage and an easy going attitude, what’s not to love about Helleborus x hybridus?