Published March 2005

It takes an absolutely prime plant to reach the exalted status of the Perennial Plant Association’s (based in Hilliard, Ohio) Perennial Plant of the Year, but the Lenten rose has made it (2005).  (See the full list of Perennial Plant of the Year winners until 2009 here) This evergreen, late-winter or early-spring flowering plant is a member of the buttercup family and is hardy clear up to Zone 4 and probably colder when plants have snow cover.  A tough and early blooming rose, indeed.

The rose is native to Europe and Asia and not common here, though catalogs offer them and its new designation as plant of the year will surely see more and more of them in area flower beds and garden areas.  They come in a rainbow of colors, ranging from pure white to a plum color bordering on black, with colors in-between of red, pink, and yellow.  And for gardeners who like their flowers fancy, they also grow as semi-doubles, doubles, and some with picotee edges.  Most times the flowers last at least two months, and in some climates even longer.

And when flowering is past, Lenten roses produce unusual seed pods that provide an ornamental effect and can produce first class seedlings.  The foliage is eye catching too, with leaves divided into 7 to 9 segments that look like coarse, leathery umbrellas, a perfect backdrop for bulbs and other perennials.  Since the roses form clumps that are 18 to 24 inches tall and 24 to 30 inches wide, they also make an elegant ground cover and can be massed to make a background for other spring flowers.

Some gardeners with wooded areas like to clear patches here and there and plant special woodland plants and flowers.  The roses are ideal for this, and equally fine for planting on hillsides above a path so they can be viewed from below.  In fact, experts say that anyone with a shade garden with be delighted with the Lenten rose. 

What do these tough and versatile plants like best?  They favor most a well-drained, humus rich and fertile garden soil, and in cooler regions like ours are happy in sites that range from sunny to lightly shaded.  Since the optimum requirement for best growth is good drainage, they do extremely well on slopes.  And don’t worry too much about water once they’re well established.  Lenten roses are tough plants that only require occasional watering even in the driest of seasons.

Again, these are evergreen plants, but if the leaves look a little tattered after a hard winter, just cut them off as new foliage emerges in the spring.  If the roses have a problem it’s that gardeners with sensitive skin should wear gloves where long exposure may occur.  A good note is that alkaloids in the leaves that might cause mild dermitis make the leaves undesirable to deer.

Growing some yourself can be a little difficult.  Seed germination is slow and it can take four or five years to produce a plant of flowering size.  It’s usually best to get them either from a nursery or a catalog, but once growing well, clumps will produce seedlings that can be planted in other areas of the garden.  That’s a definite money saver.

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