Evergreens with irrepressible foliage and cheerful blossoms

Bergenia - shutterstock_796206916.jpg

Uncharitable though it maybe, but the common names for bergenia, namely elephant’s ears or pig squeak, certainly sum up the leafy characteristics of this bold band of valuable evergreen to semi-evergreen perennials. Although proving effective groundcover plants throughout the year, it’s in winter and spring they have real value, with the foliage of some varieties glowing shades of red and bronze when subjected to low temperatures, while all spring to life from late March and April with clusters of purple-red, pink or white saxifrage flowers atop stout stems which last many weeks.

Bergenias are durable plants, for the most part totally hardy and able to endure prolonged wet weather more readily than many other evergreen perennials. This is because they come from wet and windy climates from Afghanistan, via the Himalayas through to China, growing in rock crevices and over screes and meadows in upland areas. To endure such climates they have evolved thick, leathery glossy leaves which makes them very durable in the garden, whether growing in sun or shade, but better quality foliage and flowers are produced more readily in brighter light.

They are generally unfussy as to soil, but grow best in ones that are moist and rich in humus, rather than those which are droughted in full sun, although many will endure dry shade, especially beneath trees. They are also useful for heavy clay soil. Bergenias spread slowly or modestly by creeping stems, which like iris should be positioned on the surface, not buried when planting. Lift older clumps when they have deteriorated in the centre, replanting rooted younger growths. Once the flowers are over they can be trimmed off and old leaves removed. A general slow-release fertiliser working in around the roots will invigorate fresh new growth.