Why do we ignore the most dependable, quietly beautiful plants for so long? Like the proverbial girl or boy next door, they are overlooked while we chase after something more glamorous, more exotic and, ultimately, less suitable. Then one day they catch our eye, and we start to see not only their physical beauty, but their sturdiness and reliability as well.
The Lenten rose is like that. It is not new, but gardeners in Georgia and across America are discovering it anew and giving it some well-deserved attention. In fact, the Perennial Plant Association has named the Lenten rose the Perennial Plant of the Year in 2005.
Lenten rose flowers appear in late winter or early spring (usually during Lent, as the name suggests) at a time when there are few flowers in the garden. Lenten roses are drought tolerant and have few, if any, insect or disease pests. Deer avoid eating them, a real advantage in these days of exploding deer populations.
Lenten rose belongs to a group of plants known as hellebores which includes the Christmas rose and the bearsfoot hellebore. The Lenten rose is the most versatile and reliable of the hellebores, and the one most readily available.
Plants can form clumps that are 12 to 18 inches tall and 24 inches wide. The long-lasting blooms range from white to maroon and may be attractively speckled or veined. Nurseries are selecting for specific colors and forms and propagating them so gardeners can have a wider selection of varieties. There are even Lenten roses with double flowers available now. Lenten roses can be found in the better garden centers and nurseries across Georgia. Some nurseries that specialize in perennials may carry other hellebores as well. Piccadilly Farm of Bishop, Georgia, even has a Hellebore Days celebration every spring to highlight this useful perennial.
Lenten roses perform their best in the shade of deciduous trees. They like well-drained soil, and benefit from mixing compost or some organic material into the planting hole. Good companion plants for Lenten roses include hosta, little pigs/wild ginger (Asarum), daffodil, crocus, toad lily, rohdea, epimedium, scilla, Christmas fern, autumn fern, leucojum, grassy acorus and heuchera.
Arty's Garden is written by Arty Schronce. Photo courtesy of Picadilly Farms, Bishop, Georgia.