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Graham Rice on Trials

Updates on trials and awards from the Royal Horticultural Society by Graham Rice

Bergenias - flowers and foliage

Posted by Graham Rice on 12 May 2009 at 12:16 PM

Bergenia 'Pink Dragonfly'. Image ©Terra Nova NurseriesI've mentioned the bergenia trial a few times here, it's been one of the most interesting perennial trials of recent years. And at a recent assessment session plantsman and retired nurseryman Chris Sanders suggested that however good its flowers might be, no bergenia should be given an Award of Garden Merit unless it also excelled as a foliage plant. We don't insist on that for, say, hellebores or delphiniums so what's so special about bergenias?

The point is that bergenia flowers are often damaged by frost - they certainly were this year - so he felt it was unwise to give awards solely for flowers which in some seasons might not provide much of a display at all. Seems fair to me.

Bergenia 'Glasnevin'. Image: RHS Trials Office/Alison CundyAnd the reverse is also true. As this last winter revealed, the foliage of most bergenias is very tough and can take a great deal of frost and snow so varieties with good foliage should get awards even if the flowers are less impressive. Frankly, if a bergenia has foliage which is sufficiently attractive right through the winter it wouldn't matter to me if it never flowered at all.

So ‘Glasnevin', for example, had poor flowers which did not open properly but after the snow in February its foliage was very impressive (see picture). While  ‘Beethoven' and ‘Britten', both raised by the great British plant breeder Eric Smith, along with ‘Pink Dragonfly' (see first picture), were unremarkable in foliage but can be very impressive in flower.

It will be interesting to how the assessors as a whole feel about this issue - all will be revealed when the awards are finalised.

Bergenia x schmidtii'. Image: ©GardenPhotos.comThere was another interesting outcome of this trial: the performance of a couple of the most widely grown varieties was disappointing. Bergenia x schmidtii had unremarkable winter foliage and not much flower while ‘Ballawley' had most of its flowers hidden by its leaves. These are both widely recommended, but the trial indicates that perhaps such advice is misguided.

When the awards are finally decided, I'll bring you the news. Until then, that's enough about bergenias though you can read previous posts on Bergenias in a frost pocket and Bergenias under the snow



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