A very early bloomer

Ever since I planted my first Lenten Rose over a decade and a half ago, Hellebores have been one of my favorite winter blooming plants; so much so, that I have written about them several times in the past because I can’t seem to get enough. One reason I find hellebores so fascinating, aside from the exquisite beauty of the flowers, is the gumption to bloom in winter when few plants would dare to do so.

Although they still produce flowers, our original plants are now showing a decline in vigor; therefore I have added on some more cultivars that have either caught my attention or can afford to get; my most recent addition, this past fall, is a close relative of Lenten Rose, which to my delight, bloomed even earlier. Interestingly, the events are etched on my mind. It was the day before I turned the BIG 70 last November; so, to take advantage of the unseasonable mild day, I cut short my usual physical fitness routine at our senior center to piddle around in the yard when, to my delight, I found a lovely surprise tucked under the fallen camellia leaves: The Helleborus niger, I almost forgot about, had produced several flower buds which were cuddled against each other because of the weight of the wet leaves. And now, almost two months later, in the middle of the cold snap we are encountering, the buds have unfolded into the most delicate, off-white flowers with just a hint of green and pink on the petals. It is such a treat to see flowers in the garden at the peak of winter that I could not resist the temptation of picking a freshly-opened flower even though it meant I had to stoop down all the way near the ground where the flowers are borne.

Hellebores, in general, are carefree easy-to-grow perennials that stay pretty much evergreen year round although plants do need to be groomed in spring to remove the old, messy-looking foliage. They prefer to be grown in partial shade in humus-rich, moist but well-drained soil and once established, require little care; however, I do apply a little Plant-tone in spring to give them some oomph. While slow to grow, but over the course of time, clumps become fairly large nevertheless stay manageable, which reminds me that I really need to divide our original plants, a task I have been putting off for quite some time.   

Whereas the plants bear quite a bit of similarity, but unlike those of Lenten Rose, the flowers of Helleborus niger, also known as Christmas rose - perhaps because of the time the plants bloom - do not nod shyly, but look straight in front!  Cut flowers, depending upon the maturity level, can last a fair amount of time in water in a vase; but, to make them last even longer, dip in boiling water after harvesting, suggests Libbey Oliver in the book “Flowers are almost forever” (Brandylane Publishers Inc.).

By the way, although called “roses,” hellebores are not members of the rose family. Needless to say, they have their own special place in the heart as well as in the garden of the gardener.

Gita’s Tip of the Month: Avoid walking on frozen lawns so as to avoid injury to the grass blades which can break easily.

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