Finding the first hellebore

On a recent, relatively mild afternoon, as I stepped into the back yard to gather some camellia flowers for an arrangement, I literally squealed with delight when I casually glanced at the clump of our hellebore, Lenten Rose to be specific, growing in the vicinity. Nestled among the old and the new foliage, and partially covered with fallen oak leaves from a neighboring tree, barely visible, was a lovely flower bud - ready to open any day. In fact, so hidden was the stalk carrying the bud, that I had to bend all the way down to the ground to reach it!

True, I have encountered these moments before, as hellebores bloom when few plants would dare to have the gumption of this perennial. It never fails to amaze me. On impulse, I picked the delicate flower bud and brought it inside. Having the luxury of bringing cut flowers, especially at the peak of winter, is indeed a treat. Loaded with such assets, it is no surprise that Lenten Rose, Helleborus x hybridus, was selected as the “Perennial Plant of the Year” for 2005.

My acquaintance with Lenten Rose goes back to over a decade and a half ago when a fellow master gardener mentioned how versatile and unique this winter-blooming perennial is. Since then, Lenten Rose has occupied a special place in the shaded portion of our perennial garden. Carefree and easy to grow, plants are almost evergreen and form short clumps, which over the course of time, can become fairly large sideways.

Plants prefer to be grown in partial shade and humus-rich, moist but well-drained soil. They are disease resistant and require little overall care. However, I do apply some Plant-tone in the fall as lately, I have noticed a decline in flowering of our plants. The flowers that range in color from white, green, pink and rose, nod somewhat gracefully, adding an aura of mystery to the plants. By the way, so as to make cut flowers last longer, one needs to dip them in boiling water after harvesting, a technique I have learned from the book by Libby Oliver titled, “Flowers are almost Forever”.

Our garden club has invited an expert on hellebores as the guest speaker in a forthcoming meeting. Needless to say, I can hardly wait to learn more about this tender-yet-tough perennial.

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