Bergenia, Evergreen Under the Evergreens

Thursday, April 13th, 2017 at 7:00 am

When I started my education in horticulture, I requested a space in my mother’s vegetable garden. She generously let me use a 3 by 10 ft area in the shadiest part of the garden, alongside the neighbor’s Arborvitae hedge for my mad scientist experiments in gardening. Over the course of several years I accumulated and lost a variety of plants, but the Bergenia always lasted.

Bergenia cordifolia or Heartleaf Bergenia is an herbaceous perennial with medium rounded leaves that grow in a rosette up to 1.5 feet tall. The glossy leathery leaves offer a different texture in the landscape that contrasts well with the finer textures of grasses such as Carex or Hakonechloa. In spring, Bergenia puts up 1 to 1.5 foot stalks of clustered pink to red bell-shaped flowers. In late fall to winter, the leathery leaves usually turn wine red and can be left until spring. Bergenia does best in part shade with moist, humus-rich soil.

In spite of its preference for part shade, Bergenia does an excellent job enduring full sun and fully shaded locations as well as dry or wet. While it may not tolerate very wet shade or very dry sun, it adapts well to most other sites. Bergenia even does well under pine and spruce!

Bergenia is also a great plant for a garden that kids play in. The flowers don’t attract much in the way of pollinators. Though the occasional bee or butterfly may visit, they’re far and few between. Bergenia is also tolerant to some trampling as well as to salt, deer and rabbits. Best of all, they’re interactive. Take a leaf and rub it between your thumb and forefinger to hear the leaf squeak. This is the reason for its common name: Pigsqueak.

If you haven’t tried Bergenia, I invite you to try planting a small mass of Bergenia cordifolia or Bergenia cordifolia ‘Winter Glow’ in a shady area of a yard. The leathery leaves offer evergreen, virtually maintenance free coverage throughout the year and the pink bell shaped flowers will help brighten up the spring for both kids and adults.

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