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.