Very few flowers bloom in the winter months around Gainesville, but there is one exception to the rule. The Helleborus x hybridus - known by a more common name of lenten rose - is an excellent drought-tolerant, deer-resistant plant that requires little maintenance. Every year, the lenten rose graces the shady beds of southern gardens.
Not a rose at all, these winter bloomers push up through the coldest of soils. Unlike other flowers that last only a week or so, the lenten rose stays colorful for two to three months. The subtle colors add interest during a season when flowers are rare. The colors vary from a dark purple or slate to pink and white. The white hellebores tend to carry the best color from a distance.
The lenten rose does well in some shade and prefers a rich dark soil that drains well. Fertilize with a time-released product and spread a handful of lime around each plant every winter. They endure the summer, then put on a new flush of growth in the fall.
Hellebores grow from rhizomes (rootstalk) just below the surface and they go through their major growth when most other plants are dormant. They will start sending up new leaves and flowers before winter is over. The plant is an evergreen perennial that typically grows to be about a foot and a half in height and width. Their life span is long. When the plants have finished their blooming cycle, the flowers start to turn greenish, the center of the flower becomes full of seeds and eventually the seeds turn black. The seed pocket will then burst forth and drop seeds that are ready for transplanting or sharing. Transplant the seeds in the fall.
I found out about hellebores (lenten roses) from my grandmother in Alabama and became instantly mesmerized by their subtle shades of color and now I treasure going into my own garden to seek out their beautiful winter foliage. When my seeds are ready, I believe I will head down to Miss Jesse's home, a wonderful neighbor of mine, and fulfill that promise I kept to share my hellebores with her!
Wanda Cannon is a Master Gardener trained through the Hall County program and also serves as Master Gardener coordinator and horticulture assistant for the Hall County Extension office. Phone: 770-535-8293.