In Praise of Bergenia (Elephant’s Ears)

Five petalled flowers with delicately veined petals

I tend to be drawn to the palest pink or white bergenia cultivars, in preference to those with bolder colours, but this mid pink caught my eye last year at The Dorothy Clive Garden. The flower scapes were elegant; closely packed with flowers and I loved the subtle veining (or crinkle effect) on the petals.

Bergenia leaves and flower scapes

As The Beth Chatto Gardens Blog once put it, bergenia is a plant underdog, often dismissed as untidy, uninteresting or both. Slugs and snails like them, so you can expect the leaves to show bite marks in an accolade to their tastiness. I like them too.

The flowers, though beautiful, are almost afterthoughts – the large leathery leaves are bergenias’ main claim to fame, giving the plant a long season of interest. When the leaves eventually brown and shrivel, as they are statuesque plants, you do tend to notice them, but if you don’t like this stage you can always trim them back.

Bergenia leaves in winter

In winter, the leaves of some cultivars adopt different hues and tints to their usual dark green, often appearing burnished in the right type of light. This was a different plant, seen at Dunham Massey’s winter garden, all the more interesting for the thin coating of frost where sunlight had not fully dappled its way through to the ground.

If you like this effect, make a note to check with the supplier whether the leaves colour in winter before making a commitment to a particular variety. Beth Chatto’s team advises that they are planted in sunlight rather than deep shade in UK gardens to promote winter colour, and suggests the plants thrive best in poor sandy soil.

16 thoughts on “In Praise of Bergenia (Elephant’s Ears)

  1. rascalspetphotography says:

    Interestingly, Beth Chatto’s garden was the place where I first fell in love with Bergenia – Beth has them featured highly in her garden and at the moment their arching flower heads define each bed, providing a delightful soft highlight of pink, cerise, purple or white …

    Glad you love them too !

    Amanda Clowe – Wildcarrot Photography

    • susurrus says:

      We saw the leaves there last autumn. There is so much to love in that garden, though it was not at all what I’d been expecting.

  2. Oddment says:

    “Crinkle effect”! Exactly! I love the wording as much as the flower, and that is one amazing flower. The leaves in the frost are gorgeous. I had no idea elephant ears had so much to offer!

  3. Lindy Le Coq says:

    Fascinating! When marketing Bergenia to consumers in the USA, its common name is Pigsqueak – Elephant Ears and Pigsqueak – what a combination! Looks like I need to do some more research on this one locally!
    Thanks for the lovely post, Susan.

    • susurrus says:

      I wonder why Pigsqueak? Perhaps they find it as alluring as the slugs, although that seems unlikely. My guinea-pig used to squeak with excitement when it heard the rustle of the plastic bag its food was kept in.

    • susurrus says:

      I’m not wildly keen on begonias, not even the double types, though there is a woodland type I like and I concede they can be very fine plants. These ones are bergenias – they’re not quite as waxy as a begonia but just as leafy. I’m not sure whether you meant to put bergenias, but were tripped up by the spellcheck, which has a thing about ‘correcting’ plant names.

      • calensariel says:

        LOL… They reminded me of begonias and I got sidetracked! The purple flowers are lovely, however. I’m learning a lot about flowers just from reading your blog, Susan! It’s so full of info.

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