A New Spin On Lenten Roses

A New Spin On Lenten Roses

Helleborus 'Winter Moonbeam'

One of the few good things about maturity and experience is that time provides a broader perspective on things – or as people like to say, it’s easier to view the big picture.


We all watch changes in soils, pots and trends, in marketing and in lifestyles. Usually, we try to accommodate some of those changes.  It has also been said, however, that plants are our common currency, and we must try to stay on top of what is new.

Many new plants come our way, but a small percentage stand the test of time. Breakthrough plants like rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm,’ verbena ‘Homestead Purple’ and a handful of others have done so. Neither plant was introduced with much fanfare, but they were sufficiently different and performed well enough in the greenhouse and landscape that they are still going strong.

Lenten roses (Helleborus spp) have been around forever. I have written my fair share about them, though problems with clonal propagation, hybridization and cost have kept new cultivars under the radar for many years.  The radar is now humming; we shall see if the demand follows. Coming from someone who has followed the groundswell of
hellebores for many years, I believe they have the potential to turn heads.

Breeders and distributors such as Terra Nova Nurseries, Plant Delights, Heuger, Skagit Gardens, C. Raker & Sons, James Greenhouses and others are jumping all over this genus. I have too little space in this column to go into why, but like all breakthroughs in breeding, additional species have been incorporated into the germplasm. They are sufficiently different in appearance, and people have taken notice.  Lenten roses bloom earlier, so they may be used as pot plants in late winter in retail outlets. They are also being trialed in many areas so retailers and consumers have confidence in the plants.

Hellebores are not petunias. They have a far longer production cycle, and they are more costly for sure – the new hybrids even more so.  Both plugs and prefinished material are available in 2012, although many are available in limited numbers.  

Here are a few I believe deserve a second look:

The Plant That First Brought Us To The Party: Lenten rose, H. orientalis, will continue to be the mainstay of landscapers and contractors because they are cheap (all from seed), available and, essentially, bulletproof. They reseed and are best for drifts of plants.  

The Plant That Started This Whole Movement: ‘Ivory Prince‘ appeared about five years ago, and it is still new to many people.  It has excellent foliage and upright flowers and acts as a good performer. That this hybrid clone could be produced and sold successfully showed the potential for large numbers in the United States.  

The New Plant Hybrids: I have looked at more than 100 new hybrids in the last few years, and I could bore you to death, just like I could with new heucheras, echinaceas and daylilies., but some are sprinkled throughout the article. Call your brokers to check
availability and price on these.  

Will they catch on?  Will they change the face of Lenten roses in the future?  It’s hard to say. Price will always be a bit of an issue, but if I were a betting man, I’d lay a wager on a few of these.