(Elephant's ears) Mention to a gardener that you like Bergenia and you get a long, confused stare as though to say ‘what those boring things!’ But I really do like and respect these robust, immensely useful plants. Okay, so they may not be the prettiest or most intriguing of garden plants, but they do provide architectural structure, if short in height, to a border throughout the year.

They will also grow in almost any situation; sun through to shade, dry soils or damp soils (although they don’t like deserts or bogs). They are also long-lived, and are easy to look after, needing little attention.

Left to right: Bergenia 'Eroica' Bergenia 'Abendglut', Bergenia 'Bressingham White', Bergenia 'Baby Doll'

Bergenia Flowers

Bergenia produce clusters or sprays of large bell-shaped flowers that sit above the leaves on strong, upright stems that are often tinged red. The colours range from white through soft pink to deepest magenta. Sometimes they sit in calyces of a different colour, thus adding further interest to the flower. Although most produce only one flush of flowers starting around March and lasting until the end of April or early May, one or two varieties send up further flower stems later in summer, which is useful as few other shade loving plants produce flowers at this time.

Left to right: Bergenia 'Schneekissen' Bergenia 'Pink Dragonfly', Bergenia 'Bressingham Bountiful', Bergenia 'Jelle'

The Glorious Leaves Of Bergenia

A slowly spreading, carpeting plant, the leaves of Bergenia are perhaps it’s most important feature. Large, leathery, mostly evergreen, the leaf shape varies from round paddles to narrow ovals, similar in shape to a wooden spoon. How long the leaf stem is dictates the shape of the overall mound. Some leaves have long stems and flop over making loose mounds, while others have short leaf stems and produce a carpet of neat, tight rosettes. When fully established Bergenia cover the ground so thickly few weeds will get through. Finally, in autumn as the frost arrives the leaves of many varieties turn glorious shades of red.

Left to right: Bergenia 'Ice Queen' and the winter leaves of Bergenia ciliata 'Mrs Wilton', Bergenia 'Bressingham Ruby', Bergenia 'Claire Maxime'

How Evergreen Are Bergenia?

The term evergreen is a bit of a confusing especially as some Bergenia are more evergreen than others. Those that are less evergreen only keep a few leaves over the winter months while others remain solidly green.  The least ‘evergreen’ varieties I have grown are Bergenia ‘Abendglut’, Bergenia ‘Silberlicht’ and any that contain Bergenia ciliata in the family history.

How To Care For Bergenia

A hardy perennial that survives temperatures down to -10 degree and a lot more. Slow to mature, but when established, long-lived. In time the woody, ground-hugging rhizomes may become long with leaves at the end but otherwise leafless. Dig the plant up and cut back the rhizomes parts as new leaves will emerge from any woody rhizome left. Remove old brown leaves as you see them. As with all evergreen plants, when new leaves appear, the old ones turn brown and die off. To keep them neat, and prevent snails and slugs from finding a hiding place it is a good idea to remove these old leaves.

What To Grow With Bergenias

I like to plant Bergenia with low growing perennials that produce totally different shaped leaves to that of the Bergenia. This includes the silver leaved Stachys byzantina and Centaurea, and hardy geraniums with deeply divided leaves like Geranium ‘Rozanne’ or Geranium sanguineum ‘Album’. In shady spots with a fair amount of moisture they go well with silvery leaved Brunnera (Silver Wings’ for instance) and Pulmonaria like ‘Opal’. In drier shady spots all Epimedium make great companions. They also look great in a container, either just as a single specimen or as a planter as part of a large group. 

Left to right: Bergenia 'Bressingham Salmon' mixed with the leaves of hardy geranium, Bergenia 'Herbstblute' with Helianthemum 'Wisley Primrose', Dianthus 'Mrs Sinkins, pale blue Centaurea, Bergenia 'Dumbo' with Geranium 'Dragon Heart'

Browse Bergenia

. Posted in A to Z of Perennials.

More articles

Evergreen leaves
Think of plants with lovely leaves and most gardeners imagine trees, shrubs and fabulous autumn colour. Perennials are rarely considered yet many have beautiful leaves and this very important attri...
6 min read
Best Perennials For Bees: Aster, Echinacea and Eryngium
Bees and Bumblebees are essential to the life of a plant, but sadly in recent years their numbers are on the decline. A world without the busy bee would not only leave our gardens bereft of sound a...
9 min read
About Our Plants & Ordering From Us
If you have any questions about buying from us such as do we grow in peat-free compost or when is the best time to order you might find the answers here.
8 min read
Cookies help us deliver our services. By using our services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn more