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Hellebores: Winter's Delight

Richly colored, nodding flowers, beautiful evergreen foliage and a tough nature has made the Lenten rose a favorite.

In early winter, when every other perennial and most shrubs have slumped into dormancy, there's Helleborus niger, often known as the Christmas rose, blooming gently into the cold. In February, when cabin fever has set the gardener nearly wild with anticipation, there's Helleborus x hybrida, also known as the Lenten rose, a'blooming. And in early spring, when daffodils and crocuses spring up, there too is the hellebore.

Depending on the species and variety, hellebores can bloom any time during December to May. You can't always count on when they'll bloom — just that they will, usually over a long period of time.

"I had a beautiful one I named Thanksgiving because it bloomed right at that time," says hellebore hybridizer Barry Glick. "But the next year it bloomed at Easter."

Glick, the owner of Sunshine Farms in West Virginia, has developed a Sunshine series, a large collection of vigorous hybrids to add to the already enormous family of these much-loved winter-blooming perennials.

The Lenten rose (Helleborus x hybrida) has been named the perennial of the year for 2005 by the Perennial Plant Association. For its admirers, it might as well be the perennial of choice every year. After the flowers fade, the pest-free evergreen foliage is attractive enough by itself. And, because the plant is poisonous, it's safe from foraging deer. The plant can be grown anywhere in the United States, provided it gets shade, a rich, organic, acid soil that's moist but not wet, and plenty of fertilizer. It's reliably hardy in Zones 4 to 9, possibly hardy to colder zones when snow cover is present. In colder areas where snow cover is absent, provide plenty of mulch.

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