Bergenia 'Eric Smith'
Words: Graham Rice
Many bergenias are blessed with two seasons of special interest, and look pretty good the rest of the year as well. There’s winter foliage, some of the best have leaves which turn a rich red in winter. There are the spring flowers, in dramatic magenta shades, many pink tones or white. And, for the rest of the year, those bold, rounded, leathery leaves are a fine contrast to the feathery foliage of ferns and plants like daylilies with slender leaves.
There are a few that combine all these features, and a number have recently had their Award of Garden Merit confirmed after the trial at Wisley. For me, both in the trial and in my own garden, ‘Eric Smith’ has been outstanding.
In some winters, the foliage of mine has been beetroot red, a really dramatic colour, although in the trial it was a deeper, richer shade with almost brown overtones at times and salmony red underneath. With snowdrops around and among the leaves it looks amazing.
Then as the leaves become greener, the flowers emerge. On red-tinted upright stems, they’re bright and vibrant yet not so garish as to be offensive to gardeners of a more pastel persuasion. For rest of the year there’s that bold green foliage.
Great British plant breeders
Bergenia ‘Eric Smith’ commemorates one of the great British plant breeders. He raised Hosta ‘Halcyon’ and a wide range of other plants including a number of bergenias, many named after composers whose initial is B. ‘Britten’ also picked up an AGM.
‘Eric Smith’ started as a plant that he grew outside his back door when he was Head Gardener for Penelope Hobhouse at Hadspen House in Somerset. When he left, he gave the plant to Beth Chatto who introduced it with his name.
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