Epimediums (also known as barrenwort or bishop’s hat) have pretty, heart-shaped evergreen leaves and delicate, nodding flowers.
Their spreading habit makes them excellent ground cover plants – grow them under shrubs or trees in a shady spot. The tiny, star-like flowers in spring look great paired with spring bulbs, hellebores, primroses, trilliums and other shade-loving plants.
For the best results, grow epimediums in dappled shade. Epimediums are especially suited to acid soil. Remove dead and damaged leaves before the flowers appear in spring, and apply a thick mulch of compost or leaf mould around the crown. Divide large clumps in autumn.
More on gardening in shade:
Here are nine beautiful epimedium varieties to try.
Epimedium x rubrum
The pretty leaves of Epimedium x rubrum are bronze when young, darkening to red-brown in autumn. In late spring tiny, crimson and pale yellow flowers appear on wiry stems. It doesn’t need deadheading.
Height x spread: 30cm x 30cm
Epimedium ‘Amber Queen’
Epimedium ‘Amber Queen’ produces a mass of dainty amber-yellow coloured flowers from April to June. The leaves are serrated around the edges. A delicate yet tough plant.
H x S: 45 x 60cm.
Epimedium x perralchicum ‘Fröhnleiten’
This ground-covering evergreen variety has copper or pink foliage and deep yellow flowers. A good pick for dry shade.
H x S: 40cm x 50cm.
Epimedium ‘Pink Champagne’
Epimedium ‘Pink Champagne’ is a hybrid cultivar, with attractive bronze-red, mottled foliage and a profusion of pink-red hanging flowers in spring.
H x S: 40 x 65cm
Epimedium stellulatum ‘Wudang Star’
Epimedium ‘Wudang Star’ was collected from the wild in China by renowned plantsman Roy Lancaster in the 1980s. It produces low-growing clumps of leathery, spiny foliage. In mid- to late spring, white, star-shaped flowers are held 20-30cm above the foliage.
H x S: 35 x 35cm
Epimedium grandiflorum ‘Lilac Seedling’
Epimedium grandiflorum ‘Lilac Seedling’ has attractive, arrow-shaped bronze-green leaves in spring and sprays of pretty lilac flowers on upright stems in April. A vigorous grower.
H x S: 25 x 30cm
Epimedium lishihchenii is a large plant, bearing large, bright yellow flowers and large, evergreen leaves, which take on an orange hue in spring.
H x S: 45cm x 30cm.
Epimedium ‘Fire Dragon’
The spring foliage of ‘Fire Dragon’ is tinted with amber and silver, a lovely background for its pink and yellow flowers.
H x S: 30cm x 30cm.
This evergreen species bears sprays of white, sometimes icy pink flowers, held above bronze-green foliage.
H x S: 45cm x 60cm.
Epimedium growing tips
- Best in fertile, humus-rich but free-draining soil in partial or dappled shade. Some will take more sun and drier conditions
- Mulch with well-rotted organic matter in early spring before the new flowering stems emerge
- Cut back evergreen varieties just as the new flower stems start to appear in spring
- Trim off the old foliage of deciduous varieties in late autumn
- Water new plants during dry spells in their first season to help them settle in