Let me start with this statement - one will never truly appreciate the presence of an epidemium in the garden unless one plants one in the ground and waits 3 years. There are reason why we have passed them over at nurseries or in catalogs, either the flowers are oddly spider like, or the potted specimens looks less-than-exciting, but see one established in a garden, and suddenly they move to the top of ones must-have list. Few see specimens in our garden without asking "wow, what is that?".
|In the garden, a rather un-exciting 2 inch pot of these special epimedium species transform into spectacular garden plants.|
Today, Joe and I visited our long time friend and nursery owner ( and neighbor) Karen Perkin's owner of Garden Vision Epimediums located in Phillipston, MA. Nurseries like this one are rare, dedicated to just one genus, but with a breadth of selections which can impress any plant enthusiast.
|Epimedium x 'Flame Thrower'|
Garden Vision Epimedium's is the love child of both world renown epidemic collector and breeder Darrell Probst and Karen Perkins, the nursery features many of the Epimediums Darrell had collected in China as well as most of his hybrids, and there are few places on Earth where anyone can find these. I think most people don't know that before 1997, there were only a handful of species and named selections available. I urge you to check out their web site and see what delights await.
|Name tags currently un-used rest in baskets at Karen Perkin's Epimediu Nursery. Look at how many varieties and species there are!|
You may be wondering why these particular varieties are not available at your local garden center? There are a few reasons why, but the answer may not be what one typically hears (that they are too tall for the shelves at a Home Depot - which some are, or that they are not in bloom at the 'right time of year' - which they are, since they bloom in May and June), for our dear little epimedium loathes containers and especially small pots.
|The flowers can be lovely, but often, it is the foliage which makes epidemic such valuable garden plants.|
Epidemium, at least the really good varieties and species may always be difficult to find - the woody rhyzomes creep just under the surface of the ground ( like may of those plants within the genus Berberidaceae like Podophyllum), which by itself means that this horizontal habit is rather unforgiving for those who require Mass Market practicalities such as fast propagation and large numbers of pots in small spaces. Our epimedium deficiency can be blamed somewhat not on bad PR, but on practical marketing weaknesses such as not being photogenic and what marketers call 'poor shelf-presence'.
|Epimedium x 'Pink Champagne' came home with me. Can you tell why? When I spotted it in Karen's garden, I was struck but it was a little expensive. But when she shared with me that this was one which Darrell feels is the most beautiful one that he has ever raised. Needless to day, I had to get it.|
And that is the burden all epimedium must face - that their shelf-presence may be ineffective, yet their garden presence which is often highly spectacular. Add it up: Epimedium are long-lived, form dense, tight mounds of foliage which look nearly like a small shrub in some selections, or a nice, dense ground cover in others, they have variable foliage often with colorful spots, dark edges or reddish highlight, they have delicate clouds of blossoms in spring, which alone, should make any plant move to the top of a woodland gardeners list, but there is more.
Epimediums are terrifically hardy and the spread -not ever-so-slowly, but enough that places them in the "I really never have enough of them" category, but not nearly as slow as the ' I wish it would divide eventually (like a good trillium). It's the sort of plant that once you have one, you are so impressed, you come back for more.
|Epimedium x 'Pink Champagne' in the garden. For some reason, Epimedium are like me - cursed with the burden of being difficult to photograph well.|
Although epimedium may never be 'popular', they are treasured garden and open shade perennials. I asked why many of these species and selection which we saw in Karen's display beds in full bloom were not often seen on nursery shelves, and the answer kind-of explains the challenge some plants have.
Enter epidemic culture a little informed - first, they are technically woody in nature (well - with woody parts underground - rhyzomes) they creep getting larger with each year, making a larger clump which only gets more impressive, yet they sulk a bit when kept in nursery containers, which keeps the best garden varieties off of your big box retailers shelf, and most never even make it to the nursery. Epimediums are just grown and known by a few who know, but that shouldn't keep you from being one of them.
|All epidemics here are sold in deep, 2 inch pots which may not show what the plant will eventually look like in ones garden. Trust me, they are all beautiful and unique once planted in the ground.|
|A spread for a Martha Stewart Living magazine feature from a couple of years ago shows the variety just within the foliage on some epidemic varieties.|
|I had to ask Karen what her favorite Epimedium was ( always good to do while visiting a specialist nursery). It was this delicate sweet thing - Epimedium x 'Windfire'. With very long flower spikes.|
|Epimedium grandiflorum 'Purple Prince' - perhaps the deepest purple blooms on any epidemic. There are so many epidemics to get at Garden Vision Epimedium's that it can be difficult to choose just one.|
|Epimedium grandiflorum 'Saxton's Purple', what at first looked similar to other purple epimedium varieties at the nursery, suddenly looked completely different once you compare them side-by-side.|
|A very prolific rare Trillium pusillum 'Road Runner' forms a mat in the woodland garden.|
|Another nice trillium, T. grandifloras 'roses' . First blooms white, then turns rose.|
I found out later, that this, like many white Trilliums, ages to a rose color depending on night temperatures ( we have had a very cold spring), but that this also has a back story which you can read about here at the Joe Pye Weed nursery site. I should mention that part of the inner circle of friends here are the folks who own Joe Pye Weed - Jan and Marty are long time friends of Karen and Darrell, they are not only neighbors, but mutual friends of all of us, as well. (Get their catalog - download it here, especially since they specialize in breeding extraordinarySiberian Iris which I visited and wrote about here - The amazing Joe Pye Weed Siberian Iris).
|A nice species peony. Known as 'Molly the Witch' by plant people, this is actually named by plant taxonomists with the mouthful of a name - Paeonia mlokosewitschii.|
|One of Karen's sweet pups gets some lovin' from Joe. I'm not sure if he liked it or not.|