Learn about growing hellebores or Lenten roses in your garden as a groundcover.
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Although we grow this plant as a perennial flower, it also has other devious uses. During the siege of Kirrha in ancient Greece, the invading armies poisoned the city’s water supply with crushed roots and leaves of this flower causing the protecting armies to be weakened by diarrhea and overwhelmed. That’s a good reason not to eat the leaves of your Lenten rose.
Lenten or Christmas rose is more widely known by its botanical name, hellebore. Hellebores are hard to kill, shade loving, low growing plants that are perfect for a flower border or ground cover. Hellebores have gone through a plant breeding revolution over the last 20 years. Newer hardy, hybrid varieties, such as ‘Amethyst Gem’ and ‘Onyx Odyssey’ have flowers in a wide range of colors such as white, yellow, pink, red, bi color and burgundy/black. Some flowers are up to 3 inches in diameter and have double petals.
Hellebores bloom early, sometimes in the snows of March. But the cold weather never seems to stop them. The plants stand 1 to 2 feet tall with dark green leaves. Once the spring blooms have past, it makes an excellent ground cover. I’ve seen groves of hellebores under old oak and maple trees. I’ve planted some among my hydrangeas. The hellebores have lots of light for flowering in spring, but the hydrangeas shade them from the intense summer sun.
Although you can divide and spread hellebores, there’s little need. Plants will bloom for years with minimal care. And some hellebores will spread by self sowing. The final perk is that hellebores are deer resistant.