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Who would have thought that Bergenia, Rodgersia and Heuchera all belong to the same family?
All three are members of that group of 30 genera and 580 species known as Saxifragaceae. Most of us are familiar with the smaller rock plants – those reliable and extremely hardy specimens with their rose-pink, white or magenta flowers which spread so happily across the stones and pathways of our carefully created alpine gardens. But rodgersias? And bergenia? However, all are extremely tolerant of poor soil, need good drainage (indeed what plant doesn’t?) and have adapted themselves to the rigours of icy, wintry conditions.
The rodgersias, first discovered in Japan in the late 19th century by John Rodgers, need moist conditions for ultimate success. Great pond-edging plants they are, indeed. The bergenia, however, is an entirely different matter. With its large, leathery leaves and clusters of pink, white or red flowers, it will grow under the most unfavourable conditions. In B.C., it is one of the most redundant of early spring flowers, and large groups are to be seen in almost any garden or roadside planting. The first species known to European gardeners, Bergenia cordifolia (shown above) has large glossy leaves which last throughout the winter. Curiously enough, if you take one of these leaves, crush it between your hands, twisting it as you do so, it makes a noise rather like a piglet!
This led the late E.A. Bowles to refer to it as ‘pig squeak.’ Be that as it may, it makes for a very impressive early spring flower and massed plantings of this very easy-to-grow plant make a very fine show. Other cultivars worth noting are B. ‘Abendglut,’ with its crimson, almost double flowers and B. ‘Silberlicht,’ one of the best white forms. B. stracheyi, from the Himalayas, has rounded leaves and branching heads of pink flowers; there is also a white form, B. stracheyi ‘Alba.’ B. (Ballawley) has bright crimson flowers on stems 45 centimetres high and round green leaves which turn crimson-purple in winter. A mixed planting of B. stracheyi, B. cordifolia, B. stracheyi ‘Alba’ and B. ‘Ballawley’ would be a wonderful thing to see. As all these varieties are easy to grow, I urge everybody to try as many varieties as it is possible to find.