Jennifer Schultz Nelson
Extension Educator, Horticulture
Sometimes common names are frustrating, because widely different plants may share the same common name. But other times common names can be intriguing. Take the common name for the shade loving plant Bergenia—Pigsqueak.
That common name alone made me take a second look at Bergenia. The name comes from the sound of rubbing the leaves, which are very glossy and leathery.
The genus Bergenia contains ten different species. All are native to central Asia from Afghanistan to China. Bergenia cordifolia is the species most commonly grown in gardens. The species name 'cordifolia' translates as 'heart-shaped leaf', which explains another common name for this plant, Heartleaf Bergenia.
Bergenia is a great choice for the shade or woodland garden. Leathery, somewhat succulent leaves grow in a rosette and reach heights of about 12 to 24 inches depending on the cultivar. Even when not in flower, Bergenia's bold large leaves provide a great contrast next to fine textured plants in the garden.
Cultivars of Bergenia cordifolia tend to remain evergreen through the winter especially when the weather is mild. In cool weather the foliage of Bergenia cordifolia tends to turn shades of purplish bronze.
Bergenia will tolerate a wide range of soil types, but prefers well-drained, moist soils containing lots of organic matter. It is a very polite member of the garden, spreading slowly via rhizomes.
In Spring, Bergenia produces clusters of cone-shaped flowers on the end of a thick stalk. Typically the flowers are deep pink, but there are cultivars available with flowers ranging from white to ruby red and deep purple, and shades in between.
A few Bergenia cultivars to consider:
· 'Baby Doll'—12 inches tall; green leaves splashed with bronze; light pink flowers
· 'Ballawley'—24 inches tall; green leaves; red flowers on red stems
· 'Bressingham Salmon'—12 to 18 inches tall; green leaves splashed with bronze; salmon flowers; red foliage in winter
· 'Bressingham White'—12 to 18 inches tall; deep green leaves; pure white flowers
· 'Evening Glow'—12 inches tall; green leaves with red undersides; semi-double reddish magenta flowers on red stems
Little maintenance is required for Bergenia. Remove flower stalks as they fade, and remove dead and dried out leaves as they appear. Do not cut down foliage in the fall, as many cultivars are evergreen, even in our Zone 5b climate.
Partial to full shade is the best environment for Bergenia. My plant is located in the small patch of shade I have on the north side of my house. It gets morning sun followed by shade and appears to be quite happy, having produced a lovely show of blooms in this its first spring as a resident of my garden. I highly encourage anyone looking for something other than Hosta to plant in the shade to consider Bergenia.