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Friday, April 18, 2014

My Favorite Plant in the Garden This Week is Epimedium

One of my favorite plants for dry shade is Epimedium. It comes in such a wonderful variety of leaf shapes and flower colors. I have lots, all over my garden, in many different beds, but unfortunately have lost or misplaced or buried beyond retrieval most of the tags, so for the most part I have no idea which is which.

But I still want to share this great plant in all its variety. They are all blooming like crazy right now, and sending up new foliage.

'Frohnleiten,' the first Epimedium I planted here in Washington

The clump has spread nicely

'Frohnleiten' flowers at the same time as Brunnera, and the yellow and blue work well together

When we first moved here from Massachusetts, I had a steep learning curve regarding all the new plants I could grow in this climate and zone. But Epimedium is one that I was already familiar with. I had been growing it in my Massachusetts garden for at least 15 years or so, but when I first bought it there was nowhere near the variety that I see now at nurseries and at all the special spring sales.

Epimedium makes a great companion to other shade plants such as Hellebore, Hakone grass and Beesia.

Epimedium has a wide range of interesting and funny common names -- barrenwort, bishop's hat, fairy wings, horny goat weed, rowdy lamb herb, randy beef grass or yin yang huo. There are about 50 species of Epimedium, most of which come from China.

Epimedium grandiflorum 'Red Beauty'

Here in my Zone 7b/8a PNW garden, they are evergreen, although the old foliage does get ratty-looking after a harsh winter like the one we just had. It helps the plant's looks to cut the old foliage back in the late winter, which has the added benefit of making the new flowers stand out more (like many Hellebores). They are a great option for dry shade, but also thrive in our very wet and cool fall/winter/spring period. Epimediums increase slowly via underground rhizomes, but the rhizomes never travel far from the main plant, unlike other plants that run riot. In zones colder than 7 (like my previous Zone 6 Massachusetts garden) they are deciduous.

Some are grown primarily for their foliage. I have a small handful that I bought for their leaves, such as Epimedium wushanense, below.

I love the pattern on this leaf, it reminds me of stained glass

I can see the reason for the common name 'Fairy Wings.'

I don't know the name of this one, but I love its fabulous chocolate foliage

It eventually fades to green

You can find lots more info about all kinds of Epimediums here, at the website Plant Lust.

The favorite plant in the garden meme is hosted by Loree at the blog danger garden. Her favorite this week is Magnolia laevifolia, which looks like a fabulous plant (Read her post here)! Check out the comments to see what other bloggers are sharing this week.


  1. Hi Alison, what a lovely post ... the photos of your Epimediums are beautiful, and so many. I have only one but it's a wee beauty, Epimedium Pubigerum, aka Bishop's Hat. I discovered it while holidaying in the Scottish Highlands last year. It was in a little nursery attached to a very special mountainside garden just on the shores of Loch Ness. I then brought it back to our new garden in the South West of Scotland. It's still in it's pot but it will soon be transplanted into the woodland area where I hope it will do as well as yours. And now that I've seen yours I intend to search out a few more varieties. Thanks for sharing your photos and the accompanying information. Elizabeth

  2. Those are gorgeous Alison! The foliage is stunning and so are the flowers. Amazing variety too. This is one of those plants I would love to grow but must admire them from afar in your garden.

  3. As soon as I bought my first one I was hooked. Lucky I have a lot of shade! Your pink and yellow one is stunning.

  4. I like your chocolat-y angel wings, and the green one with the chocolate highlights. Plain old sulfureum has clumped up the best for me, the ones with pink flowers have been much more dainty growers. If you want the full Epimedium experience, you must try the tea which is very restorative.;-)

  5. Wow, Alison--your epimediums have so much leafy new growth. Mine are way behind. Beautiful!

  6. Who cares what their real names are when you can tell us their crazy common ones. I am slowly adding to them ( they do run on the spendy side).

  7. We really rely on epimediums for dry shade here in our garden. And I do love the different flower colors and forms, and the new foliage is so striking.
    Great post.

  8. I love Epimediums! The flowers are fascinating and they have wonderful foliage. Unfortunately, they're not well-suited to our climate, although I did make a stab at growing them in the shady garden at our old house. They didn't thrive but they didn't out-and-out die either - maybe I'll have to try another experiment with them here.

  9. You have so many different beautiful Epimediums. I love the special tiny flowers. I am not yet very familiar with the Epimediums, have only two varieties for some time, but they are doing well.

  10. Wow you've got quite the collection! I'm not a huge fan but there are several of yours (the darker and spikier ones of course) I really like. All of the new leaves on my Epimedium wushanense are green, I lost all the darkness. Bummer!!

  11. That's a super collection Alison - I'd be hard pushed to choose a favourite between the flowers but the last one with the Chocolate foliage is GORGEOUS!!
    I only have 3 varieties, something that I have no doubt will change when my shrubs get a bit bigger and I have room for under planting.

  12. A lovely post. I love Epimediums too, Alison. Both the dainty flowers and the fresh new foliage. I am like you and I have lost a lot of labels. It is particularly annoying if you buy a new one and take it home only to find that you already have it.
    I love the pink one; well actually I love them all.

  13. Alison you have so many gorgeous varieties...I am waiting for mine to wake up soon...I love the foliage as much as the delicate blooms.

  14. You have a nice collection of epimediums! I've been wanting to add some to my garden. The flowers are so dainty and different from anything else. I didn't realize there was such a variety in the foliage too, something else to recommend it.

  15. Very nice photos, inspires me to do what I keep meaning to do is add more to the couple of epimediums that I have.

  16. You have a wonderful collection of epimediums! I've never met an epimedium I didn't like. This may sound odd, but I've been afraid to try them because I like them so much. If the deer mowed them down, it would be one more plant I love that I can't grow. But this is the year that I add epimediums to the garden! I planted three when I visited my parents last November and will definitely be adding more. Yours are much farther along than mine, but my three may be a bit behind this year because they were planted so late.


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