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The Much Maligned Bergenia!

Posted:8 April 2017

Here at The Garden House we love bergenias, although in some quarters they are considered rather ‘old-fashioned’ and even boring! As you may know we are planning an exciting trip to the gardens of Norfolk and on our way back we’ll be dropping in to the marvellous Beth Chatto gardens in Essex. (Garden House visit to Norfolk 14-16 June)

So bringing the two together – Beth Chatto and bergenias! – we noticed this charming  and informative blog post on the Beth Chatto website, see below. Hopefully they will not mind us reproducing part of it – CLICK HERE to read the rest!

Bergenia, Beth Chattos Garden

Indispensable elephant’s ears, bergenia

Elephant’s ears, bergenia are one of the most indispensable and widely used evergreen plants here in Beth Chatto’s garden but there are few plants that seem to provoke such polarising views amongst our visitors.

Unfortunately, the genus does suffer from the fact that many people consider them untidy, rather boring and a perfect home for slugs and snails.

Very often seen in large sprawling mats of creeping rhizomes and fitting of this such bad press perfectly is Bergenia x schmidtii, which has no winter foliage colour to speak of and flowers so early in the year that it is often damaged by inevitable frosts. 

Bergenia, Beth Chattos Garden

Elephant’s ears, Beth and Christo

With a natural instinct to support the underdog, I consider it my duty to inspire the sceptic gardener to look favourably upon the humble elephant’s ear and what better way to start than remind ourselves it was this very subject that proved to be the catalyst for the friendship between Beth Chatto and Christopher Lloyd, the owner of Great Dixter in Sussex. The heavy soil and enclosed, dense style of the planting at Great Dixter is not ideally suited to growing bergenia. Consequently, Christo, in his classic book “The Well-Tempered Garden” had little time for bergenias, a view to which Beth felt obliged to pen a letter in their defence. Christo replied, inviting her to “come for lunch” and so began a mutual friendship based on similar values and interests but above all on a shared passion for plants.

So often consigned to dark, shady areas, where they grow but will never give of their best, as they really do need the opposite, maximum light and exposure in order to colour well in the winter and we find they grow best in open areas on our poorer, drier soils where they form an essential feature of our drought resistant Gravel Garden. They really are the hosta of the dry garden, giving us the large bold leaf so desperately needed for contrast with plants such as thin-leaved grasses, lacy silver foliage plants or spiky plants. All adapted to survive dry conditions to which the leathery elephant’s ears are a perfect foil.

Bergenia, Beth Chattos Garden

Bergenia, The Garden House garden





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