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. flowerspy.com.
Lenten rose in one of its many available hues