The Lenten Rose
Stunning new colors for a perennial favorite deserve a place in your garden.
"You don't have to water or fertilize, and deer won't eat them," says Sam Jones of Piccadilly Farm in Bishop, Georgia, who, alongside his wife, Carleen, runs a nursery that specializes in Lenten roses. These plants' sturdy character and long blooming season have meant ever increasing popularity. They make a hardy evergreen ground cover in shaded areas. Naturally drought tolerant, they endure the summer, then put on a flush of new growth in fall and again after flowers appear in late winter and early spring.
Lenten Roses at a Glance
- Light: shade of tall trees
- Soil: organic, well drained
- Moisture: tolerates drought, but not wet
- Spacing: 30 to 36 inches between plants
- Propagation: transplant seedlings in fall
- Nice to know: deer and vole resistant
- Expect to pay: $4 to $35 depending upon size and selection
With greater demand comes opportunity for nurseries to make improved selections. Judith and Dick Tyler of Pine Knot Farms in Clarksville, Virginia, started with the Piccadilly Farm Mix and continue making crosses and strains using Lenten roses they bring home from annual visits to England. Through work with this breeding stock, they have been able to offer the Ashwood hybrids, plants with more vivid and varied colors and flower forms. Exciting innovations include doubled and anemone-flowered blossoms, outward-facing flowers, picotee flowers (a lighter or darker edge), brighter pinks and whites, and new colors such as green, yellow, apricot, and dark velvety purple.
Success with Lenten roses requires some advance planning. Here are a few guidelines to aid your endeavor.
- Choose the right spot. Lenten roses need light shade and well-drained soil. Plants prosper from the Upper to Lower South and into Central Texas. North Florida and coastal gardeners need to provide full shade, fertile soil, and perfect drainage. Sam says that calls from customers who have lost plants usually reveal that they have used automatic sprinklers that kept the roots too wet.
- Don't plant too deep. The crown of the plant should be sitting on the surface of the soil. If set too low, the plant will decline. Likewise, years of heavy mulching or a buildup of fallen leaves will have the same effect.
- Give them a good start. Prepare the soil deeply. Work plenty of organic material such as compost, mushroom compost, soil conditioner, sphagnum peat moss, or rotted manure at least a foot deep into the planting bed. Also mix in a timed-release fertilizer at the rate recommended on the label. If your soil is acid, add a half-cup of dolomitic lime per plant as well. In winter every year after, sprinkle a handful of lime around the plant.
- Choose the right colors. Although the dark purple or slate (sometimes called black) Lenten roses are intriguing, they don't show up well in the garden. White flowers carry the best at a distance. Pink and rose colors add interest during a season when flowers are so rare.
- Groom plants in small gardens. If your plants are close to a walk or terrace, remove any ragged foliage that has been damaged by winter. The flowers will show up better, and new growth will quickly emerge.