The Lenten Roses

One of the most admired and remarked-upon features of the late winter gardens at Fearrington is the astounding collection of hellebores or Lenten roses (helleborus x hybridus) to be found in the dry rock garden near the sign to Fearrington House Restaurant. Starting from a collection of just 12 plants – vegetatively propagated from the famous strain grown by Ashwood Nurseries in England – our plants have multiplied over the past dozen years to become a veritable carpet of bloom. Usually beginning their show near the end of February and continuing well into May, this year’s mild conditions have brought them into full bloom at the very start of February.

Tough, drought-tolerant, and virtually deer-proof, the clusters of bell-shaped flowers in colors ranging from greenish-white to deep purple rise in perfect bouquets above the dark green foliage. Trimming off the older leaves as the flowers emerge helps to make these beauties stand out even more! Apart from this minor clean-up-and perhaps a yearly application of lime, which the plants prefer-there is is little maintainence needed to keep Lenten roses happy. While they are generally listed as plants for part to full shade, the gardeners at Fearrington have been surprised to note how adaptable ours have been to sunnier conditions. Hellebores also provide excellent year round ground cover.

In addition to the beautiful display in the rock garden area, we have hellebores worth seeing in Jenny’s Garden (a spectacular speciman of “Heronswood White” begins its show a little later in the season), a slate-blue cultivar to the left of McIntyre’s side door, and several of another species, helleborus foetidus, with chartreuse-green clusters, directly in front of The Fearrington House Restaurant. All are worth discovering on a late winter walk through the gardens at Fearrington!