Perennial growers and landscapers have long known about the Lenten rose (helleborus). It is an early-flowering, shade-loving, tough-as-nails perennial that the gardening public has recently discovered. In fact the plant has been around, unchanged, for centuries.
Lenten roses are called as such because they generally bloom during Lent. They may, however, bloom two weeks before or after Lent, depending on the climate. Lenten roses are cold hardy to about Zone 4–they’re even hardier if planted in a protected area or with a blanket of snow–and they can flourish as far south as Zone 8. The Lenten rose was the Perennial Plant Association’s 2005 Perennial Plant of the Year, so we shouldn’t need too much catching up.
So, why am I writing about Lenten rose if it’s been well known for so long? Hellebores are no different than many other genera. They sit around forever with breeding advances nibbling away at the edges, but like a ‘Rozanne’ geranium or a ‘Purple Wave’ petunia, all of a sudden, a breakout piece of breeding occurs. The term “breakout” may not even be accurate in the case of hellebores because there have been better series–and occasionally single colors available–but seldom in decent numbers or at an affordable price.
‘Ivory Prince’ was introduced a few years ago, with little fanfare but great success. Plants people like me were ecstatic that a vegetatively propagated hellebore, with consistent habit and flower color, was now available. The foliage was handsome but the breakthrough was that the flowers stood above the foliage and were outward facing, unlike most of the seed-propagated hellebores whose flowers nodded down. That it also performed consistently around the country made landscapers and retailers smile. I have often called ‘Ivory Prince’ the best new hellebore in the last 50 years.
Success begets success. There will be an explosion of new hellebores in the next five years, with companies like Plant Haven, Skagit Gardens, Terra Nova Nurseries and Heuger Trading Company making serious pushes with new hellebores. Looking at the material we are trialing here at the University of Georgia, it is obvious breeders are looking for plants in which the flowers are more visible than what is commonly available.
Below are some of my choices.
– ‘Ivory Prince.’ The king at the moment.
– ‘Tutu.’ A Lenten rose with tall flower stems so the nodding flowers can be appreciated.
– ‘Cinnamon Snow.’ Good color, good habit, outward-facing flowers.
– ‘Pink Beauty.’ Amazing number of flowers, all looking at you.
– ‘Ruby Glow.’ Fabulous color.
– ‘Pink Frost.’ Upright flowers, excellent dark color.
– ‘Winter Moonbeam.’ Wonderful foliage, beautiful flowers.
All these hellebores are available in 2010, or will be available for 2011. They all look good in a container and will be among the first perennials to flower in the pot or in the ground. Get some and evaluate them for next year’s spring market. These plants are in their infancy, so some will be far more successful than others. But don’t say I didn’t give you a heads up!