Nellie the Elephant!
Updated: Mar 30, 2020
No, we’re not off to the circus! I mention Nellie because the plant I’m looking at here is Bergenia, otherwise known as Elephant’s Ears, and looking at the shape of the leaves, you can see why.
I don’t think Bergenia get the recognition they deserve. They haven’t had the sort of ‘celebrity’ exposure that many perennials have enjoyed, but they are one of the most useful plants to have in the garden: they will grow just about anywhere (including shade, but avoid waterlogged or bone-dry soil), the majority are evergreen (many turning red over winter), and their flowers are open, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, well before the majority of other perennials have even yawned or poked a shoot through their duvet of protective winter mulch. They are pretty well bomb-proof, and although the flowers don’t last that long, the leaves provide a foil for other plants throughout the rest of the year.
Bergenia don’t come true from seed, so the best way to propagate them is by division, or by cutting a section from a root rhizome which has one or more leaf rosettes on it. This is best done straight after flowering, or in the autumn. Pop it in a pot with some compost and grow it on a little before planting it in the garden.
After about three years the centre of the plant may become open, exposing the bare rhizomes. Now is the time to dig it up, divide it, and replant – and get lots more plants for free.
There are some lovely varieties: probably the most widely available is Bergenia ‘Abendglut’ which is a deep magenta; but there is also B. ‘Silberlicht’, a near-white variety; B. ‘Schneekönigin’ is a lovely pale pink; and B. ‘Autumn Magic’ is candy pink.