If you’re looking for an elegant and effective way to clothe shady ground with decorative foliage, then look no further than epimediums.
These plants really come into their own at this time of year, as wiry stems support new mottled foliage that unfurls in various shades of red, bronze and lime green.
As leaves emerge enchanting sprays of four-horned flowers on strand-like stems appear, in almost every shade, except blue, quivering in the breeze like shoals of tiny tropical sea creatures. Related to berberis, a closer inspection of the flowers reveals a more complex structure, the various parts sometimes in different tones giving a bicoloured effect.
Known as barrenwort or bishop’s mitre, most epimediums come from China and Asia, while a few, such as E. perralderianum come from Mediterranean regions, and are more able to withstand drier conditions. While some species are deciduous, others are semi-evergreen or evergreen perennials slowly expanding by fine underground rhizomes to form dense, weed-proof clumps.
While young foliage is often vibrantly patterned in shades of red or bronze, as it matures it usually turns green, but in some species the tonal hints or red margin remain. By winter’s end if plants are looking a little unkempt, simply shear off the foliage just before the new foliage and flowers emerge.
Being woodland plants, epimediums enjoy moist, but well-drained soil, but some, such as E. rubrum and E. versicolor, will endure drier conditions once fully established. They appreciate a mulch to help keep roots cool and the foliage in good condition. Clumps can be moved or lifted and divided in autumn.
Six Epimediums To Brighten A Gloomy Garden
E. grandiflorum ‘Lilafee’
Sprays of soft lilac flowers over deciduous, bronze-flushed, shield-shaped foliage. H/S:30cm (12in). From: Beth Chatto Tel: 01206 822 007
Mound shapely leaves are bronze-flushed when young. Clusters of soft yellow flowers. Drought tolerant. H/S: 30cm (12in). From: Bluebell Cottage Gardens & Nurseries Tel: 01928 713718
Hybrid with evergreen foliage, red-flushed in spring, remaining tinted. Red and pale yellow flowers. Drought tolerant. H/S: 30cm (12in). From: Plants for Shade Tel:01963 32802
E. versicolor ‘Sulphureum’
Vigorous evergreen hybrid, producing sprays of soft yellow flowers. Foliage copper red in spring. Drought tolerant. H/S:30cm (12in). From: Plants for Shade Tel:01963 32802
Dainty orange flowers over dense evergreen foliage, tinged red in winter. Larger growing than most. H:45cm (18in) S:60cm (24in). From: Crocus Tel: 01344 578111
E. youngianum ‘Niveum’
Elegant species with neat, fresh green foliage, dark tinted in spring. Sprays of pure white flowers. H:30cm (12in). From: Beth Chatto Tel: 01206 822 007