Bergenia…A Tropical Look for Cold Climates

Bergenia cordifolia is one of those plants you can scarcely believe could be hardy down to Zone 2. Everything about it looks tropical. Even its common name ‘elephant-ears’ is more reminiscent of the African plains than the Canadian north.

Bergenia also goes by the name ‘pig squeak’. Rub the leaves and it squeaks like a baby pig. The entertainment value alone makes this heirloom plant worth the price. It’s a great way to interest children in the garden. Where else can they pet an elephant’s ear to hear the sound of a happy little piglet?

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Bergenia dislikes hot, dry, conditions but has a cheerful, forgiving spirit. While it prefers to be tucked into a sheltered partly shaded spot with well drained soil, it will soldier on in clay or full sun. After flowering is finished snip off the spent spikes but be sure to leave the foliage alone. Known as a four season perennial, bergenia will provide a lush, tropical touch to the summer garden.

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In warm climates the leaves remain evergreen right through the winter but in colder regions gardeners are in for a colorful treat. Bergenia foliage heats up the fall garden by turning vibrant shades of pink, red and purple.

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In the spring you can trim off any damaged leaves but other than that this is pretty much a maintenance free perennial. It grows to a height of 12 inches (30 cm) with a spread of 12- 18 inches (30 – 46 cm) making it an ideal candidate for edging woodland gardens or for tucking into corners where nothing else wants to grow. Roots spread slowly by rhizomes and are easily divided in the spring after they have finished blooming or in the early fall.

 

New plant introductions are being hatched every year and the bergenia is no exception. Here are just a few variations of this hardy heirloom you might want to try.

Bergenia cordifolia ‘Purperea’ – recipient of the 1993 Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit this one features dark pink blooms on red stems in the spring giving way to deep purple leaves in the fall.

Bergenia cordifolia ‘Bressingham White’ – kicks off the season with white blooms that slowly change to pink. The deep green leaves change to bronze in the fall.

Bergenia cordifolia ‘Lunar Glow’ – an unusual bergenia with buttery yellow leaves veined with green in the spring providing a dramatic backdrop to the magenta-pink early blossoms. In the summer the leaves change to dark green and then to a rich red in the fall. Never a dull moment with this chameleon in your garden!

Bergenia cordifolia ‘Solar Flare’ – another unique offering with buttery yellow stripes on the edges of dark green leaves through spring and summer making it similar to Hostas in appearance. Very dramatic in shaded spaces. The variegated leaves change to red in the fall.

Bergenia cordifolia ‘Eroica’ – An extremely tough long lasting bergenia. Sleeps right through winter temperatures down to -46 C (-50 F) and wakes up in the spring refreshed and ready to roll. Deep purple blooms last longer than the blossoms of most other bergenias. Gorgeous green leathery leaves turn rich shades of red and burgundy in the fall. A great pick for container plants.

Bergenia cordifolia ‘Morning Red’ – an old time favorite and for good reason! Very showy with its deep purplish-red blossoms and large green leaves. In the fall the leaves turn a beautiful bronze. Very hardy.

Play Me That Street Cleaning Music!

This morning I was woken by the sound of scrubbing. Serious scrubbing. Could it be? I leapt to my feet, heart all aflutter, threw open the sash and what to my wondering eyes should appear? No reindeer, no Santa, no snow and not one but two street cleaners!

One on either of side of the street, they moved towards each other with tortoise-like speed. It reminded of a race of the Zambonis. Slowly, steadily, their brushes swirled sucking up a winter’s worth of salt, gravel and winter weary unmentionables, leaving nothing but wet, shiny pavement in their paths.

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Whoo hoo! It felt like Christmas, but better. Like all Peace Country dwellers, I am so ready for spring. It has been almost seven full months of snow. I know that the mere sight of street cleaners doesn’t mean we won’t (whisper) wake up to a foot of snow before spring finally shows up, but it is still an encouraging sign. After seven months of winter, we need all the signs we can get.

I also spotted some ducks on the open pond in the park. This was a much better sight than what I witnessed on my drive down to Dawson on Saturday. As I approached the North Taylor Hill a duck dropped down right in front of me, lining itself up for a landing on the highway. I slammed on my brakes just as the duck realized its mistake and pulled up like a 747 aborting its landing. The highway was glossy with snow melting as it hit the surface. Looking at its winding surface from a duck’s perspective the Alaska Highway must have looked like a river. Poor thing.

But today, it is street cleaners, open water and sunshine. We’ll be in ankle deep in dandelions before you know it!

If You Don’t Like The Weather Just Wait A Year

What a difference a year makes. I keep a line-a-day journal so I can annoy my family by telling them what we were doing on this very day last year.

Yesterday in 2016 it was plus 28 Celsius and-as you might expect-all our snow was long gone. Yesterday it was -9, my sons headed home after an Easter visit and spent an extra hour looking out at a snow covered landscape while their planes were deiced.

On this day in 2016 I had gone down to Dawson to help my mother in her garden. She had just been diagnosed with both early Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia two weeks before. To say she liked to garden would be like saying Jane Goodall had a passing interest in primates. From the time Mom retired as a librarian right up until the summer before last, she was all about the garden.

Winters were spent designing, ordering plants and starting thousands-yes, thousands-of seedlings. Most years she would jet off on a garden tour, her favorite destination New Zealand. You could point to any tree, shrub, perennial or annual and if she couldn’t tell you the name, cultivar, genus and species she could quickly look it up on her garden map or by riffling through her index cards.

And then she couldn’t. Suddenly she didn’t know the difference between a rose and a petunia. Worse, she knew she didn’t know the difference.

“How could I forget the names of all my plants?” She would say, shaking her head. “That’s just cruel.”

It was cruel. It was also deja vu of the worst sort as we had watched my father go into the same decline only a few years before.

So on this day last year I had gone down to work in my mother’s garden because she had not only forgot all the names of her plants, but even more heartbreaking, she had lost interest. Only eight years earlier, faced with my father’s diagnosis, she had bought a duplex in a gated community in town and proceeded to not only move their belongings from the farm, but had us move most of her garden in as well.

She chose the unit because it offered the largest backyard and the garden soon filled every bit of it. Just before Christmas in 2013 my father had gone into long term care and now here was Mom, losing her mind as well. As I worked my way around her garden on this same day last year, I remember thinking how therapeutic gardening can be, but I wasn’t finding any stress relief. My sisters and I were sad, worried and more than a bit worn down.

Only a week before we had found an amazing woman who lived nearby and was willing to help in the garden. Over the winter we had arranged for caregivers to check in. Mom was fierce in her resistance to it all. She decided she would rather move into assisted living than have strangers coming into her home. Even beautiful, kind and saintly strangers. But the waiting list for assisted living was long, spring had come and the garden was indifferent to all the heartbreak, resistance and changes happening around it.

Last year, late in the afternoon I headed off for the hour’s drive home, promising to return in a few days, only to find the Alaska Highway was closed because of a wildfire. It was hot and dry and fires were popping up all over the countryside. I had to cross over to the Hart Highway and reroute through Chetwynd and Hudson’s Hope. My one hour drive turned into four.

To my surprise it was the drive that provided the therapy I had looked for in the garden. The detour was both beautiful and apocalyptic. Another fire had jumped the highway just after the Pine River and blackened fence posts were still smoldering, but then I came around the corner and spread out below was a gorgeous valley tinged with spring-green leaves budding out on the trees. And that’s how it continued to unfold all the way home. I would pass a burned out car, blackened bits of forest and then be presented with gorgeous green vistas. The bible verse about beauty for ashes, oil of joy for mourning and a garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness, kept rolling through my mind.

In a few days the blackened destruction would give way to summer grass and the untouched trees would spread their leaves wide open in spite of their fallen companions and life would go on. Only the spring before my mother had welcomed the first two great grandchildren into the family. In two months Mom would finally get her apartment in assisted living. We would empty the duplex, work in the garden without her, tuck it in for winter and then Mom would sell the place the next spring-only two weeks ago-to a lovely couple with garden aspirations of their own.

Sometimes the landscape is burning, sometimes it’s dead and sometimes it feels reborn. This year it is…well, it’s frozen. It has been such a long winter and it is so hard to believe how early spring came last year. Or winter for that matter. Snow fell and stayed on the last night of September and we are still waiting for it to leave. It feels like we are stuck in a holding pattern in so many ways. Last week I saw geese, ducks and crows, no doubt regretting their untimely migration, but here they are just the same.

Well this has been a ramble and a half. I guess what I am trying to say is things might look pretty bad right now, but spring can’t be far. Today the snow has finally stopped falling, the sky has cleared and we are being splashed with a huge dose of our famous Peace Country sunshine. As my line-a-day journal proves, if you don’t like the weather just wait a year.

Or something like that.

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