{ Posts Tagged ‘barrenwort’ }

Low-maintenance Monday: Epimedium

The Rodney Dangerfield of plants, Epimedium, commonly called barrenwort or bishop’s hat, doesn’t get the respect it deserves. This underused plant is a superhero in the shady garden, providing colour and texture where few plants dare to go. Eight of the 17 expert gardeners interviewed in Gardening from a Hammock selected various forms of barrenwort for the shade garden. Although this perennial looks delicate, it is “tough as nails” says one.

It is a dependable, no-nonsense groundcover says garden lecturer Frank Kershaw. “It takes sun in the rockery and shade in the woodland and keeps its leaves into winter.” He adds that it is tough and flexible enough to flourish in dry shade. Depending on the variety, white, pink or yellow flowers appear from May to June while the heart-shaped leaves emerge bright green with a slight tinge of pink or red and later run a deeper green; by autumn they take on yellow, bronze or red tones.

Not only does this perennial form a lovely carpet of interesting leaves, but the flowers can work with many themes.

Epimedium comes in three colours: red (rubrum), yellow (sulphureum) and white (niveum). Aldona Satterthwaite, executive director of Toronto Botanical Garden, teams the yellow Epimedium with ghost fern, Bowles golden sedge and golden Japanese forest grass for a spectacular combination of colour, texture and interest in the shady garden.

Barrenwort is a lazy gardener’s treasure because it will grow under just about anything, including maple trees. Dugald Cameron, of gardenimport.com, recommends the variety ‘Frohnleiten’ because while the regular species has blossoms that hide under its leaves, this one holds its butter-yellow blossoms above the heart-shaped leaves. The glossy leaves are a bonus as they turn deep red in autumn.

Chalk Lake Nursery owner and teacher Martin Galloway adds that the old foliage of barrenwort crumples and covers the ground in winter through spring, at which time the new leaves rise above the old in company with the flowers. “It is slow growing but consistent, will live forever and is drought tolerant and tough,” he says.

All varieties of barrenwort are hardy, bloom in the shade and are an excellent groundcover or edging. They can brighten up a woodland garden in full or part-shade. Typically barrenwort grows 20-25 cm high with a 15-30 cm spread in zones 4-9.

Sedum spurium ‘John Creech’ is one of the star plants selected by 17 expert gardeners in Gardening from a Hammock by Ellen Novack and Dan Cooper. Gardening from a Hammock is an easy-to-use book describing how to create a fabulous, four-season garden using low-maintenance plants. It’s loaded with tips and has a botanical reference guide.

Texture in the shade

img_2915Many of us who garden on a city plot have to contend with a fair amount of shade. Some gardeners think this means saying buh-bye to colour, but that’s not true. There’s so much you can plant to add oomph to even the darkest, dankest corners. (My front garden is a special challenge, for there I deal with the dreaded dry shade, thanks to a moisture-wicking, nutrient-sucking Schwedler Norway maple, which thrives on a tiny patch of ground.) So out I went with my camera, to give you a few examples of what I mean. The main photo at left shows the emerging lower foliage of a ‘Golden Shadows’ pagoda dogwood, as seen against the dark green of periwinkle, now in bloom.

When it comes to shade, texture is the name of the game. Texture can mean a play on green, as well as an interplay of other colours. The photo just below, far left, is a corner that has several oakleaf hydrangeas (which really need a bit more sun, but oh well. Pee-gee types do better and give me loads of blooms in late summer.). In spring, Leucojeum ‘Gravetye Giant’ adds its tall, snowdrop-like blooms to those of variegated and plain solomon’s seal. This is underplanted with green-and-white-striped sedge (Carex ‘Ice Dance’) and Lamium ‘White Nancy.’ img_29061img_29271Nearby is a healthy clump of the brunnera called ‘Jack Frost,’ whose silvery leaves look fabulous throughout the season. Above all is that trusty standby, an old, shapely redtwig dogwood (Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’) with its green-and-white variegated leaves. So greens, whites and silvers lighten and brighten up this area.

Two other plants I find most useful in both gardens are various types of heuchera and perennial geranium (near left), especially Geranium macrorrhizum cultivars, which handle the shade with aplomb and reward me with pretty blooms in spring and nice foliage throughout the season.

img_2912img_2910And I can’t praise barrenwort (Epimedium spp., far left) enough. Also known as bishop’s hat, this plant is very happy in my garden. I have the rosy, purply and yellow types. The flowers are dainty but it’s the foliage I really like. Small, delicate and airy, it combines well with other shapes and doesn’t overpower (you really want to avoid the “moundy roundy” look you can get with a surfeit of heucheras and perennial geraniums).

Like many shade gardeners, I’m mad about ferns. Here is ‘Lady in Red’ (near left) in my front garden, where the soil is a constant battle for it really wants to be nothing more than dust, so I have to amend it like mad. The purple leaves growing through it are Lysimachia ‘Firecracker,’ which proved to be horribly invasive in the back but is just fine here, and easy to hoick out if it gets too rambunctious. In fact, I shifted other invasives to the front, including gooseneck loosestrife and lily-of-the-valley. Both are surprisingly well-behaved and haven’t overwhelmed the more polite plants, which just shows how bad the conditions out there really are.

img_29343The Japanese painted fern (far left) is one of my favourites. I have a fine clump of them in the back, near a Japanese maple and a dark-burgundy-leafed ‘Diabolo’ ninebark, and the veins of the ferns echo the deep burgundy. It took a few years for these ferns to get established with any sort of vigour, so don’t lose heart if yours look poopy. They’ll come along. However, they haven’t done well in the front garden, where the fierce roots of the Norway maple make life a real struggle for all but the most determined (and shallow rooted) of plants. Others that don’t do well out in the front include hostas, which need more room for their roots, so they stay small and sulky.

img_2909Another fabulous fern is the maidenhair (near left), with its graceful, black, wiry stems. This clump resides in the back near some hellebores and an arching and very thorny Acanthopanax sieboldianus. The leaf-and-frond shapes complement each other nicely. And I’m working on a green-and-gold corner that’s just starting to knit together. It’s basically a combo of golden Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’), ‘Bowles Golden’ sedge, various green-and-gold hostas, and so forth.

img_29351Note the Japanese forest grass is a slow grower, and takes awhile to become established. But it’s worth the wait. For without help, this area could be dark and miserable. Though still a bit sparse, the golden tones do much to brighten things up. In spring, the creamy yellow, fragrant ‘Elizabeth’ magnolia nearby is underplanted with yellow-flowered barrenwort and daffodils. It does my heart good to see them.