Susan H. of Windsor asks: I was told that hellebores bloom in the middle of winter, unaffected by the cold, and are very easy to grow. That's my kind of plant! What else can you tell me about this plant?
Hellebores belong to the genus Helleborus, which has 15 species, all belonging to the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae).
Since they bloom around Christmas and Lent, they have common names like Christmas rose and Lenten rose.
They have some of the showiest flowers found anywhere! Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) is a strikingly beautiful plant when it's in full bloom, having large, upturned, bright white flowers covering the entire surface of the plant. Helleborus foetidus has the showiest green-colored flowers that you could find on any plant.
They can suffer from hard freezes, which damage the new leaves and tender, young flower petals, so you might want to protect them if the weather gets down into the low 20s. This small group of woodland plants, which were originally found in the forests of Europe and western China, wait until all the leaves are off nearby and surrounding trees to take advantage of the winter's short sunny days.
The Lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis) and hybrids of the Lenten rose (Helleborus x hybridus) are one of a few plant species that are included in one of the most intensive breeding programs. New flower colors, combinations of flower colors, and flower shapes are being developed each year by careful and selective plant breeding. The flower colors range from white to deep purple, with all shades of pink in between.
Besides the many showy flowers blooming when other perennials are sleeping, hellebores have evergreen and semi-evergreen leaves, which provide some greenery during the winter months.
Hellebores perform at their best when they are grown in dappled shade or morning sun. Late-afternoon sun can cause scorching and burning. Sunlight until noon or 1 p.m. is fine also. They definitely require good draining soil, with some organic matter mixed in.
Cover all bare soil with mulch, as this will help conserve water and suppress weeds.
The biggest complaint that gardeners have is that most Lenten rose flowers nod -#8212; in other words, the flowers look toward the ground and not up at the sky. Look for the newer varieties, as they have somewhat more upward-pointing flowers. So brighten up your garden in winter and enjoy these lovely perennial blooms.