Grow Lenten Roses

Tough-as-nails perennials, Lenten roses get the New Year off to a gorgeous start.
Article: Steve Bender

Bugs won't eat them. Deer won't munch on them. Heat and drought won't faze them. And when it comes to beautiful blooms in the dead of winter, no other perennials can touch them. These amazing plants are Lenten roses (Helleborus orientalis). If your garden has shady to partly shady spots, you simply must grow them.

In the past, they came in only two colors: white and rose. But since then, manic plant breeders such as Barry Glick of Sunshine Farm & Gardens (sunfarm.com) in Renick, West Virginia, have created an incredible array of flower colors and types. (And don't take "manic" the wrong way—we love this guy!) Blooms range from crimson to pink, burgundy, purple, yellow, white, green, and nearly black. They may be double, speckled, bicolored, ruffled, and even edged in a different color. About the only milestone yet to be reached is blue flowers. Okay, now get to work on that, Barry.

The name "Lenten rose" comes from the fact that in bygone days, these plants started blooming in late winter near Lent. But now, thanks to global warming, people in the Lower South often spy their first flowers in early January. Whenever the blooming starts, it continues for about six weeks. After they flower, you can appreciate the handsome evergreen foliage, which stands 6 to 10 inches high.

Let seedpods form where this year's flowers were. Next spring, new plants will sprout all around. You can enjoy their blooms in two to three years.

Use Lenten Roses to Build a Better Border
Combine them with these three great plants for maximum curb appeal.

  • Hostas: Their wide leaves hide the foliage of fading bulbs.
  • Daffodils: Early-blooming types continue the show.
  • Black mondo grass: It's dark, grassy foliage provides excellent contrast.