Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Plant of the Month: May 2010

early summer bergenia 001

Is this the beginning of something wonderful?  I don’t know, but I do know this: it is the start of one less post I must fret about per month.  Now I can be on virtual autopilot for one fourth of my postings.  (That might be a bit optimistic, now that I think of it.)  Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still make an effort, it just doesn’t have to be some fresh, innovative, unheard of and clever topic.  Featuring my favorite plant for every month is a very worthy topic however, if for no other reason than to prove that Alaskans can grow at least twelve plants. 

berg w grasses

So without further ado, my choice for “Plant of the Month: May 2010” is Bergenia.  Yes, that’s right, lowly Bergenia, or Pigsqueak as it’s also known.  Why not something flashier, or more exotic, you’re thinking.  Well, in zones 1-5, which cover most of my (rather large) state, we tend to go for sensible…it saves money.  How did I determine my winner for the month of May?  I scrolled through my vast quantity of (mostly terrible) garden pictures and I realized approximately one in four shots included a Bergenia

I’m not picky as to species or variety.  If it survives, chances are, it will perform well for me.  After checking my handy “master yard list” on ye ol’ Excel spreadsheet, I notice lines 27 through 35 are all Bergenia.  Nine entries on the computer rates recognition as a small collection, I suppose.  My favorite thus far: B. ‘Tubby Andrews,’ pictured below, in a group shot with Geranium ‘Johnson’s Blue, some daffs, ferns, Sagina subulata ‘Aurea,’ and Alopecurus pratensis ‘Aureus.’  The flowers on this one haven’t been spectacular for me, but I am a sucker for unusual foliage.

early summer bergenia 010

Some quick stats and info on Bergenia in my yard:

Where: sun or shade


1. flowers in spring/summer,

2. one of the earliest perennials to flower in Alaska,

3. boldly shaped foliage that contrasts well with other perennials and grasses,

4. several flower colors available including purplish, pink, white,

5. the foliage on some cultivars turns red or burgundy in the fall,

6. tough plant, can stand some neglect,

7. good grief…how many reasons do you people need?!

How: plant and forget.  Well, not quite.  I do throw in a handful of compost or rotted manure at planting time and water well the first year to aid in establishment.  I tend to like large groupings, they have more impact and make decent ground covers. 

early summer bergenia 008This plant is like that singer in the church choir.  No, not the one who is always a little flat, sings a beat ahead/behind of the rest, or the one who never attempts to blend their (rather too loud) voice.  We are referring to the singer who is always in the background a bit, never obnoxious, but always spot on, pitch perfect.  Bergenia is not the diva in my garden choir.

What was your plant of the month for May?  Or what plant did you take the most pictures of?


  1. I must try Bergenia in my garden.

  2. They are lovely... I haven't tried them in 35 years... had difficulty with them back then and never came back... I need to reconsider after seeing how excellent yours look! Larry

  3. Never heard them called PigSqueak but have heard them called elephants' ears. We have one with white flowers.

  4. Thank you for reminding me of how much I love Bergenia! I'm compiling lists of what plants to go with what for future beds and I just wrote a note to myself to add this to a bed. How could I have forgotten this plant?!

  5. I agree! Bergenia is one of my favourite plants, period. My favourite bergenia combination in my garden is with a yellow hosta and blue fescue - texture and colour contrast and who even cares about the flowers?

  6. Christine, I love this feature. It's always interesting to see which plants thrive in others' gardens. I don't have Bergenia in my garden, but it is one that I am looking into for my newest flower bed. Thanks for the profile. -Jean

  7. Not being controversial but I am not fond of Bergenias or Elephants ears as I know them, Having said that always felt I ought to get to like them as they are great for covering shade areas of which I have plenty. The way you have yours planted makes them look particularly attractive - it's the surrounds which make all the difference. Love the way you write too
    all the best

  8. i shall always call bergenias 'pigsqueaks' from now on! i love them, especially if i bother to remove the dead leaves after winter and divide them up every few years so they stay young and fresh...love your writing...

  9. @PatioPatch
    Ooh, we love controversy here! I didn't care for Bergenias once upon a time, myself. They don't really catch ones eye, do they?

    In my difficult climate/zone, anything that can survive and look good three seasons of the year is a winner. That said, I understand that they just don't float some gardeners' boats.


  10. Great concept, Christine but come on, a "favorite"? Not as easy as it sounds if you're a pathetically indecisive person like me-self. :)

    Bergenia is a wise choice though, I will admit. A worthy background player, as you say, I also like that it has an air of tropical-ity to it. My Tubby Andrews is looking great too. I like how you've paired yours with the Alo.

    Great choice.

  11. They are lovely. I inherited a few in my previous garden, they grew in the shade of the house, lighting up the area, every spring, with their pale pink flowers. I'm thinking I should get them again, although I don't have a lot of shade in this new garden yet.

  12. your Bergenia is so lovely! i love your approach and determination to seeing what you can grow successfully. i'm attempting to grow some melons this summer here in Maine. it's a pretty lofty goal given their long time until harvest, but i've got to at least try. i can always add the unripened melons to my bags of green tomatoes and peppers that i end up harvesting each fall :)

  13. Christine I admire your courage & tenacity maintaining a garden in Alaska & yet getting nice plants to flower .

    I live in a Zone 11 & I have the opposite problem :)


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