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.
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.
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.