Sunday, 12 May 2013

Spring at last in the woodland.

Spring is sprung, the grass is ris.
I wonders where the birdies is.
They say the birds is on the wing.
Ain't that absurd?
I always thought the wing was on the bird. 

 We have had over a week of dry sunny weather which has been ideal for getting things sorted out in the garden. This has included extending an existing island border and planting up some newly reclaimed areas. After a couple of days of overdue rain the forecast is for more mixed weather, the main feature is a noticeable drop in temperature accompanied by a cold wind just in time to blow the cherry blossom of the trees. 

A member of the Berberidaceae, Epimedium (Barrenwort) is my favourite genus for ground cover in woodland shade and dry conditions. 

Epimedium grandiflorum 'Queen Esta'
Epimedium grandiflorum 'Queen Esta' is a deciduous cultivar with large flowers, a real favourite of mine.

They are generally divided into two groups: those from Asia prefer the damper conditions in shade or semi-shade whilst the rest, mainly from around the Mediterranean will tolerate much drier conditions once established. They also have truly deciduous and semi-evergreen species although the leaves, which can display seasonal colour variations, generally deteriorate and are best cut back in early spring which also helps to display the emerging flowers. They form a very woody base made up of rhizomes which can be chopped up to provide new plants usually in late summer. The small flowers, sometimes very tiny, are exquisite, resembling miniature orchids. 

Epimedium x warleyense 'Orangekonigin'

Introduced by Ernst Pagels this is a beautiful cross between Epimedium alpinum and Epimedium pinnatum subsp. colchicum.*

Epimedium x rubrum
 Cross between Epimedium alpinum and Epimedium grandiflorum* has good foliage colour. 

Epimedium davidii

  Very long flowering season and the flowers are born high above the foliage which is a big plus. An Asiatic species which can be a bit invasive but worth it. "Yellow Spiders"!

Epimedium x versicolor 'Sulphureum'
 This picture was taken at the Manchester Botanical Gardens at Fletcher Moss a few years ago. A cross between Epimedium grandiflorum and Epimedium pinnatum* this plant has the beauty of the flowers combined with strong foliage colour.  

Epimedium x perralchicum 'Frohnleiten'

 Originally a cross between Epimedium perralderianum and Epimedium pinnatum subsp. colchicum, 'Frohnleiten' is a German cultivar by Heinz Klose*. Like the epimedium above the foliage bronzes quite nicely.
Epimedium grandiflorum 'Lilafee'

E.grandiflorum 'Lilafee' has really dark purple young foliage. Yet another cultivar from Ernst Pagels. 

 Out of interest I include the two pictures below, both are members of the Berberidaceae and show the typical basic flower formation without the "wings" of some of the Epimediums.

Berberis linearifolia 'Orange King'

Mahonia aquifolium
 Epimediums are another invaluable genus which are now beginning to gain popularity mainly through hybridisation although they have been around in the U.K. for nearly 200 years. It was interesting that one of the plants that featured on Gardener's World this week, that had been bought at the Malvern Show, was an epimedium. 

There are so many beautiful hardy plants I do think the horticultural industry does itself a massive dis-service by taking the short-term view by pushing the exotics. Anyone who is tempted to buy beautiful looking exotic plants from the garden center, usually at an exorbitant price, promptly loose interest in gardening when they inevitably die.

* Ref: H.P.S. Epimediums and other Herbaceous Berberidaceae by David G. Barker


  1. The Epemediums are such an under valued plant.
    Way back in the 1970's we had a real job trying to convince the public to buy them and it is still probably true today.

  2. That has always surprised me, Andrew. One of the most difficult areas to address is shade and particularly dry shade and, as you know, epimediums excel in this department. The biggest drawback I find is that many of them bury the flowers in the new foliage which can be frustrating, but as ground cover I think they are unsurpassed.

  3. Great post on Epimediums Rick, I only have Rubrum at the moment. I am quite taken with grandiflorum 'Queen Esta' with blooms that don't require a magnifying glass to see them. I will be adding my tuppence worth on this plant soon, and will link to your detailed post.

  4. Thanks Alistair for your kind words and the proposed link, look forward to your post. I bought my 'Queen Esta' from Long Acre Plants but it doesn't seem to be listed anymore.