Expert’s choice: epimediums
These beauties brighten dappled shade with their pretty flowers and foliage, says Graham Rice
From the forests of China and Korea, Iran and southern Europe comes this appealing and increasingly popular group of low, spring-flowering hardy perennials. Essential ingredients of any shady garden, they mingle well with other early flowers to form an enchanting spring tapestry. Their intriguing spidery flowers may look delicate, but these plants are tough – some will even thrive in dry shade. A few epimediums are evergreen, producing a carpet of overlapping, weed-smothering leaves on wiry stems, but most die back in autumn to a steadily spreading crown. Colourful emerging foliage can be smoky, coppery or bronze – perhaps even with salmon tones. And then there are the flowers, which are like strings of dainty monkeys swinging from the arching or upright stems. The colours range from white through pastel pink, lilac and purple to bright yellow and orange across the many varieties, with some especially lovely bi-coloured forms. The flowers sparkle in spring sunshine alongside primroses, trilliums, wood anemones, violets and emerging hosta foliage, then as the leaves of nearby deciduous shrubs and trees fill in to make a canopy overhead, the foliage settles in to provide attractive summer ground cover. You can even snip the stems for posies, as they always repay close inspection.
Position Best in fertile, humus-rich but free-draining soil in partial or dappled shade. Some will take more sun and drier conditions. Care 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. Water new plants during dry spells in their first season to help them settle in. Trim off the old foliage of deciduous varieties in late autumn. Where to buy desirableplants.com, 01803 864489; edrom-nurseries.co.uk, 01890 771386; millcottageplants.co.uk, 01749 676966
PLANT DIRECTORYFind the perfect epimedium for your garden by using our plant finder at gardenersworld.com/ plant-finder
E. ‘Pink Champagne’ The new spring foliage is heavily mottled with pink, matching the pink and red flowers. HxS 40cm x 40cm