Bergenias are evergreen herbaceous perennials with distinctive glossy, rounded leaves. Their bold foliage gives them their common name of elephant’s ears.
Bergenias have often traditionally been consigned to tricky, shady areas of the garden where not much else will grow, but they’re actually versatile plants that deserve a prominent spot in your garden. Some modern varieties are more compact than older cultivars, and many have interesting leaf colour in winter – from coral to red to burgundy. Their spring flowers, held on short stems and in shades of magenta, pale pink or white, look excellent with spring bulbs and provide early nectar for pollinating insects. Bergenias are low maintenance, drought-resistant and do well in a wide range of soils, including poor, dry soils and clay. They also grow well in sun or shade.
Bergenias are a great choice for the front of the border, where their bold, rounded foliage contrasts well with plants that have contrasting, finely textured leaves, such as ferns. They also look good in a jungle-style or exotic planting scheme and can be grown in gravel gardens – they’re a key part of Beth Chatto’s legendary Dry Garden in Essex.
More on growing bergenias:
- Bergenia and saxifrage container display
- Flowering ground cover plants for shade
- 20 of the best ground cover plants
How to grow bergenia
Grow bergenias in sun, partial shade or shade, in well drained soil. Mulch annually after flowering to promote good leaf growth and divide congested clumps in spring or autumn every few years. Deadhead after flowering and remove any tatty leaves to keep plants looking tidy. Some varieties offer interesting winter colour – plant them in a bright, open spot for the best results.
Growing bergenia: jump links
- Planting bergenia
- Caring for bergenia
- Propagating bergenia
- Growing bergenia: problem-solving
- Buying bergenia
- Best bergenia to grow
Where to grow bergenia
Plant your bergenia in well-drained soil, in sun or shade. Although bergenias have a reputation for being good shade plants, they do well in sun and poor soil.
How to plant bergenia
Dig a hole for your bergenia that’s a little larger than the root ball, adding in a little grit for added drainage if the soil is heavy. Firm in and water well.
Caring for bergenia
Encourage bergenia leaves to grow as large as possible by mulching annually in late spring with well-rotted compost or manure. Remove tatty leaves regularly and deadhead after flowering to keep plants looking good. Divide clumps every few years to keep them healthy.
Bergenias spread via rhizomes (underground stems). You can propagate them easily by dividing the rhizomes. This is best done in spring (after flowering) or in autumn. Dig up the whole clump, discard the old woody centre and cut the remaining rhizomes into several sections, making sure each one has at least one leaf attached. Replant where you would like them to grow, or plant into pots of multi-purpose compost to give away.
Growing bergenia: problem solving
Plants becoming open and mat-like in the centre
This often happens after a few years. Divide plants in spring after flowering, or in autumn.
Slugs and snails
Slugs and snails can lurk under the leaves and make holes in them. Clear away any decaying foliage beneath the leaves, where they tend to lurk.
Small notches in the leaves in spring and summer are likely to have been caused by vine weevil. The grubs may eat the roots in autumn and winter. If the problem is severe, apply a biological control (Steinernema kraussei) to the soil in August or September and again in spring. Growing in a bright, open spot and clearing away any dead foliage will help to limit the damage.
Dark spots on leaves
Dark spots on the leaves are leaf spot, a fungal disease. The spots gradually increase in size, developing into large blotches that are often papery and can be surrounded by a yellow halo. Remove any affected leaves promptly. You may need to increase the spacing between your plants to improve air circulation. Water at the base of the plant, taking care not to splash the leaves, and water in the morning so that the leaves can dry off before temperatures fall towards the end of the day.
Curling leaves and dark rhizomes
This is rhizome rot. You may not be able to save your plant but dig it up and divide it, saving any rhizomes that are firm and healthy, and replant elsewhere in the garden.
Varieties of bergenia to grow
Bergenia ‘Dragonfly Angel Kiss’ – neat clumps of small, glossy evergreen leaves that turns claret in winter. In spring, the white flowers age to pale pink.
H x S: 10cm x 30cm
Bergenia cordifolia ‘Purpurea’ – a large variety with red-flushed foliage that turns rich purple in winter. Cerise pink flowers in spring.
Height x Spread: 60cm x 75cm
Bergenia ‘Abendglut’ – a classic variety that bears magenta flowers in spring. The dark-green leaves turn maroon in winter.
H x S: 30cm x 60cm
Bergenia ‘Overture’ – magenta-red flowers that are held high on scarlet stems. The leaves turn claret in winter.
H x S: 30cm x 45cm
Bergenia ‘Silberlicht’ – white flowers that turn pink as they age, on red-flushed stems.
H x S: 45cm x 45cm