Santa Fe in Bloom


Fe­bru­ary may give us a nice dose of flo­ral ther­apy just in time for Valen­tine’s Day, but the rest of themonth can seem down­right dis­mal, es­pe­cially for gar­den­ers. It’s still cold, white frozen patches sit on top of places where things once flour­ished, and ev­ery now and again you could swear you see some­thing green pop­ping up, only to re­al­ize it’s prob­a­bly a leaf.

Or is it? There’s an early bloom­ing flower that can ac­tu­ally grow this time of year, pro­vided there isn’t too much snow or mois­ture in the ground. Helle­borus ori­en­talis of­ten beats those adorable cro­cuses to the punch­line, giv­ing winter gar­dens a col­or­ful sur­prise. Also known as Len­ten rose, this type of helle­bore typ­i­cally comes out dur­ing the Lent sea­son in warmer cli­mates, al­though if our South­west winter is mild, it can show up in early Fe­bru­ary.

Helle­borus ori­en­talis is part of the Ra­nun­cu­laceae fam­ily, which also houses ra­nun­cu­lus, clema­tis, and but­ter­cups. This spe­cific va­ri­ety is al­most al­ways a hy­brid and comes in a wide range of colors, from white, yel­low and pink, to lime, pur­ple and a black shade that is dark as night. There are also some im­pres­sive mot­tled bi-colors that give the plant a whim­si­cal touch.

The col­or­ful petals of the helle­bore are ac­tu­ally a mod­i­fied ca­lyx and their lush ev­er­green fo­liage is re­sis­tant to deer and rab­bits. These plants are quite hardy, grow­ing in zones 4 to 9, which hap­pens to be the same range of grow zones in New Mex­ico. They pre­fer par­tial shade to full shade and grow in clumps that can spread to a foot or more, with stems that can grow to up to 18 inches. Helle­bores do best in moist but not wa­ter­logged soil, pre­fer­ring a pH that is close to neu­tral or al­ka­line, and they can adapt to dry, shal­low, or rocky soil.

The Len­ten rose is the eas­i­est of all helle­bores to grow, it self-sows eas­ily, and a sin­gle plant will spread quickly, so make sure to give it enough space in the flower bed. Helle­bore blooms can last up to two months and do not have any se­ri­ous in­sect or dis­ease is­sues, al­though leaf spot and crown rot can oc­cur on some plants. The plant will es­tab­lish within two years but reaches ma­tu­rity in four years. For op­ti­mal bloom­ing, it is rec­om­mended to leave old fo­liage around the plant as it pro­tects the bud­ding flow­ers dur­ing harsh frosts. To en­joy helle­bores, plant them near a pa­tio or walk­way so that the early blooms can be seen by many. These plants will flour­ish when grouped to­gether in shady lo­ca­tions such as un­der trees or next to large shrubs or wood­land gar­dens and are a great ac­cent to any nat­u­ral­ized area where the clumps can spread through self-seed­ing.

Helle­bores are the per­fect ad­di­tion to any south­west gar­den and can be pur­chased at most on-line plant cat­a­logs or or­dered at lo­cal gar­den cen­ters.

Ca­role has been in the flori­cul­ture in­dus­try, from in­ter­na­tional whole­sale and re­tail sales to event plan­ning, for over 20 years. She has flo­ral stu­dios in Santa Fe and Bal­ti­more, is a Santa Fe Master Gar­dener, and sup­ports lo­cal/na­tional flower farms and beau­ti­fi­ca­tion projects. Ca­role is avail­able for demon­stra­tions and lec­tures; con­tact her at clan­[email protected] and visit www. flow­er­


Len­ten rose in one of its many avail­able hues

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