'Silver Light' Elephant Ears
or 'Silberlicht' Pigsqueak
"The sun shone kindly o'er us,
And flowers bloomed round our feet,
While many a bud of joy before us
Unclosed its petals sweet."
Planted at the foot of a hillside way down at the lower end of our alley in a no-maintenance garden are several varieties of evergreen Bergenias which thrive on the most agregious neglect. Among them is the hybrid Bergenia cordifolia x crassifolia 'Silberlicht' (or Silver Light), also distributed as B. hybrida 'Silberlicht.'
It is not as hardy as the other varieties & in three years did not spread at all & had had rather stunty blooms. It would obvioiusly do better with more care, but it managed to hold its own even among bolder bergenias around it. Then around its fourth or fifth year it had finally gotten as big & bold as the more quickly established varieties, & developed larger finer blooms, though never on tall stems like the other bergenias.
The blooms begin as silvery-white buds close to the center of the clump of big leathery leaves. By the time it has put up its full length of candalabrum stalks, the dangling white flowers are already darkening to pink & if days are warm it may continue to darken until it is nearly red. When grown in more sun, the blooms redden more rapidly; in partial shade, their initial whiteness lasts a tad longer; in droughty sunny neglected spots as where we have it, the candalabrum may not fully form & it will bloom closer in among the leaves.
It flowers most intensely in late March, April & May, though it can have preliminary blooms as early as February, with occasional unpredictable rebloom at almost any time of the year. It tried to bloom prematurely during the winter of 2003/2004 but once the buds got big & white, they froze off, & it didn't try again until its proper time. The second photograph above was taken late one March when the plant was still stunty. The topmost photo was snapped years later in May (2009) after it had begun to be impressive.
The blooms are less candalabrum than for surrounding bergenias due to the stubby stem. There's enough stem, though, that this one too is excellent for cut flowers, though for the most part I cannot bare to cut them for bouquets, & leave them for the garden where they're very longlasting.
When eventually the blooms are no longer attractive, they should be trimmed off & composted, & that's also a good moment to give the clump a small amount of evergreen fertilizer. Feedings should be either low-nitrogen or slow-release, & once a year is more than enough. The same moment could instead be used to divide the clump if one wishes.
This hybrid is a recipient of the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society. It does well in full sun or in part shade but will not bloom in deeper shade. It would be at its most spectacular with regular watering in moist well-drained soil, but due to the fact that it does fairly well in a location that is beyond the reach of regular gardening, it is always tempting to use bergenias in tough spots.
Bergenias are extremely cold hardy, too. They can be grown in the harshest freezing climates, though here on Puget Sound they experience nothing severe. 'Silberlicht's' slightly scalloped large leathery leaves are a mid-green all year round, through heat of summer & cold of winter.
Bergenia cordifolia 'Abendglocken'
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