21 Aug 2014

Thursday Garden Review: The Genus Epimedium

It was Reginald John Farrar, in his infamous book, 'The English Rock Garden,' [1919] who wrote an article on the genus Epimedium:

'...Epimedium. The barrenworts are all much of a muchness except in the colour of their flower-flights plants of extreme but underappreciated value for quiet shady corners of the rock garden, where they will form wide masses in time, and send up in Spring and early Summer ten inch showers, most graceful and lovely of flowers that suggest a flight of wee and monstrous Columbines of waxy texture, and in any colour from white, through gold, to rose and violet. Then, beginning later than these, appear the leaves, hardly less an adornment in Summer than the flowers to Spring. For these are a delicious green, much divided into pointed leaflets, and borne on airy, wiry stems.'

Epimedium x 'Windfire'

My obsession with this intoxicating genus can be traced back to my tenure at Lost Horizons, where on a quiet Sunday I had the pleasure of meeting one of Larry's 'regulars' - though looking back, this woman was anything but regular. I can see her now, wizened and walking with the aid of a cane, and dressed from head to foot in black. As I was still 'green' when it came to the vast inventory available, I was thrilled when she said she was, 'heading to the Epimedium house and will call out if I need help. And is Larry on the property by chance?'
I ascertained on a later visit with her that she and Larry likely had the largest selection of Epi's in the province. Time to do some research. 

Epimedium 'Tama No Gepei'

Farrar's description is rather apt: they are most delicate in their beguiling nature, flower in late Spring, and do indeed have foliage that sometimes rivals the flowers themselves. They are quite adaptable to dry shade, but I for the life of me cannot understand why one would plant them beneath trees where their intoxicating fragile beauty might easily be overlooked! 

Epimedium 'Sakura Maru'

While there are a handful of North American natives available, the majority originate in Asia. Darrell Probst's name will forever be synonymous with this genus, as it was he who almost singlehandedly turned in into an overnight garden success. There is an ever increasing number of woodland gardeners who have fallen under their intoxicating spell! As you can see by the photos within this post, I would have to say that I am slightly more than obsessed with them. It should be noted that Epiphiles in general are not weak of heart, as I can attest to spending close to a fifth of a paycheque and coming home with ten plants! The stunning selection that opens this post is to date the most expensive I have ever paid for a beloved Epimedium, but goodness me, he is the one that everyone wants - as in, can you dig me a division of this one Barry?! Ummm, no. Rumour is we Epiphiles are also slightly possessive of our treasures as well.

Epimedium brachyrrhizum 'Elfin Magic'
[The very first Epimedium I ever bought!]

Many within the genus are hardy to Zone 3, and while most are tolerant of dry shade, most benefit from humus enriched, moderately moist soil. Mine have all doubled if not tripled their size within three years. There are select species that are truly evergreen, while most lose their foliage over the winter months. I leave foliage up until early Spring, whereupon I trim the wiry stems back in order to fully appreciate the flowers and juvenile foliage that is often cast with shades or bronze, gold, purple or light lime green.

E. 'Sakura Maru'

 Flowers are decidedly of two main structural forms: there are those who have petals, some of which are cup shaped, and then there are the ones with the elongated spurs, which the majority of mine fall within. E.'Hagoromo' and E.'Sakura Maru' are two of my favourite, both delicate blushed pink with long, spidery looking spurs. Both are smaller, more diminutive plants making it essential that one get down on hand and knee to fully appreciate their beauty. I cannot pontificate highly enough in regards to their necessity in the woodland or partially shaded garden. They are so carefree, free of pestilence, drought tolerant, and capable of spreading to form a simply stunning groundcover if need be! If you haven't stumbled upon this spellbinding genus, let this be your introduction. And for those of you who are familiar with them but still haven't added a dozen or so to your shaded or woodland garden, what are you waiting for? Don't make me kick you in the keester! Scroll down to meet more of my Epi kids!

** Don't forget to visit Joy, the namesake of this weekly feature, for more reviews of all things garden related! **

*** Visit Garden Visions Epimedium for a more concise education regarding this amazing genus as well as a listing of available selections. [US/Mail order/ Open Nursery Dates]

Epimedium pinnatum ssp. 'Colchicum'

Epimedium grandiflorum 'Roseum'

1 comment:

CanadianGardenJoy said...

Hello sweetie !
I finally got to the right post ... I had a whopper of a day yesterday so I'm holding on to sanity by a thin thread ! haha
You know you are the one that got me into these plants .. I wish I had more room for more .. I will find some .. some how I am sure !
These are beautiful pictures Barry!
Joy : )