Bergenia is pretty and sturdy
Bergenia has the often-used common name of 'elephant ears' because it has relatively large rounded leaves. It is grown for its handsome leaves and for its very pretty flowers. Bergenia can be seen flowering away through wind and rain in front gardens all over the country.
It is easy to grow and so is somewhat taken for granted, but is well worth growing for its knee-high stems of nodding pink or pink purple bell-flowers and those large, evergreen leaves.
One of relatively few perennial flowers that hold their foliage in winter, bergenia is very useful for keeping a touch of greenery in a bed or border in the dull months. Some kinds colour to red-purple when cold nights arrive.
The most common bergenia in gardens is Bergenia Cordifolia, a species that comes from Siberia, where it is subjected to very cold weather, so it is very hardy here, though not all related kinds are. The flowers of this species are pale pink-rose, but these vary and can be darker too.
Another species, Bergenia Purpurascens, from China, has rich purple-red flowers and leaves that are red-brown underneath and turn red-purple in winter. This has been crossed with the common kind to give varieties that have excellent red leaves in winter and darker flowers.
There are lots of named varieties, some with deep purple flowers, such as 'Ballawley', others with white flowers, such as 'Beethoven' and 'Silberlicht'. The flowers of the white kinds sometimes get nipped by late frost in spring but usually only on the top of the flower cluster. 'Abendglut' is a good winter-red variety.
Bergenia is very good ground cover, defending its space very well against weeds. Bergenia can be used in a variety of places - at the front of a bed or border where its year-round foliage is most valuable. Or it can be planted at the base of a wall or a bank, to give some greenery at ground level. It is great for filling out an odd corner, even if partly shaded.
It will grow in any kind of soil, quite dry or tending to be moist, but does not like wet ground.
The plant is very easily propagated. This is simply done by taking rosettes of leaves from an existing plant with a bit of attached stem and just pushing the stem into the soil.
This can be done at practically at any time of year, but best in autumn or spring. The stems root almost without fail.
What will my flower bed grow?
Q: I have a southeast-facing raised bed, where part of the house blocks the sun from 1pm. What plants can I grow in it? A O'Brien, Kildare
A: Most plants will grow well in that much light if the soil is good. A lot depends on the space available but you should be able to accommodate a few shrubs, maybe only small kinds, as a year-round backbone with some perennial flowers to fill the ground area and provide colour and some spring bulbs. Some plants, such as alpines, might tumble over the edge.
The actual choice of which plants to use is a matter of personal preference. Go to garden centres in each of the seasons to choose plants for that season as plants are now mostly only stocked in flower.
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