It’s difficult to say why, but I always feel a touch of joy when I spot an epimedium. These delightful spring flowering plants with delicate flowers and handsome leaves are neither glamorous nor showy. They are demure, discreet, a little shy, and can be slow to establish.
In the wild Epimediums are found in woodlands of China, Japan and eastern parts of Europe. The flowers, which can be white, yellow or reddish pink resemble little school caps. Some are topped with long spurs making them look like four-cornered hats, hence the common name 'Bishop's mitre' or 'Bishop's hat'. The flowers are carried on wiry, thread-like, branched stems that dance above a mound of low, spreading, oval, leathery leaves. Some varieties have evergreen leaves, others have leaves that die back in autumn.
Left to right: Epimedium 'Amber Queen', Epimedium x versicolor 'Cupreum', Epimedium pubigerum
Epimediums grow from slender rhizomes, allowing some varieties to cope with dry, shady areas (even those found near leylandii hedges), while others require a damper spoil in partial shade. Once established, they are incredibly tough and long lived, requiring little attention. I've had no problem growing them in full sun, but they do need soil that retains some moisture.
Twenty years ago there were very few species around, but over the past ten years or so new plants have been introduced from China, resulting in a swath of new hybrids. Not all of these new species are worth making space for in the garden, they are collector plants. I think that many of these new plants need to be trialled before recommending them for garden use.
Left to right: Epimedium grandiflorum 'Lilafee', Epimedium x youngianum 'Niveum', Epimedium 'Domino'
Needs Although they perfect partial or dappled shade, they will grow in full sun as long as the soil remains moist.
Great for front of the border, under shrubs and trees
Bees & Butterflies Not really
For Cutting No
Care They can be slow to established and some varieties can also be tempermental as to growing location. In general if an epimedium is readily available from a wide range of suppliers it will be easy to grow. Cut the old leaves off evergreen varieties before the flowers begin to emerge in early spring to tidy the plant up.
Good with shade-loving plants such as Hellebores, Brunnera and Bergenias