Plant of The Month February: Bergenia

Bergenia Overture

‘Elephant Ears’

If you, as do I, have long memories of rubbery, leathery mats of leaves and flowers in that particular shade of dusty pink, you may well have been put off growing Bergenias in your 21stcentury garden. But maybe it’s time for another look.

Gertrude Jekyll turned corners softly with their large evergreen leaves. In the ‘Great Plat’ at Hestercombe she used their evergreen presence to edge the formal beds in place of box: a useful tip from the past in our age of ‘Box Blight’.

Bergenias soften the under-storeys of trees and shrubs, covering the ground with weed-suppressing clumps. And the ever-increasing numbers of new colour-ways light up the early spring.

The late, great, Christopher Lloyd was never a man to spurn an unfashionable plant. He used their bright, blood-red winter leaves to great effect, and loved the increasing numbers of new cultivars with paler flowers, such as the compact form B.‘Pink Dragonfly’ with its paler, but rich pink blooms. The flowers of B.‘Sakura’ are large, intense pink, and lighten as they age, with dramatic dark veining. And white-flowered forms fade to pale rose.

But my favourite selection is B. ‘Overture’. It has large evergreen leaves that turn ox-blood red in winter. The flower-stems are enamel-red and the flowers are the most strident magenta imaginable. They bring joy to a cold February afternoon.

Sally Gregson

February 2019

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