Obsessed with Epimediums

What could be more beautiful than the exquisite and delicate bicolor flowers of ‘Tama No Gempei’ epimedium?

We have had epimediums in our garden for many years, developing large patches of the few cultivars available for sale.  However, my infatuation with this genus truly began in 2006 when I attended an open house at Garden Vision Epimediums in Massachusetts and was exposed to the lovely variations in flower and leaf color, habit, and leaf shape within this beautiful group of plants. 

In the last couple of years, unusual epimediums have become more available from wholesale growers, allowing us to expand the varieties we sell to our customers and plant in our own gardens.  Although I generally don’t collect plants, at last count there were 33 epimedium cultivars at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens, and there is always room for more.

I am dedicating this post to Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf and Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and all the governors and mayors across America who have stepped forward to make the difficult and often unpopular decisions necessary to keep us safe.  In the face of their dedication, any sacrifice that we are asked to make seems minor.  Please stay home to save lives.

Nursery News:  Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is closed as a non-essential business until further notice.  Our 2020 Snowdrop Catalogue, which is sold out, is on line here.  If you would like to get email notification of the 2021 catalogue, please send your full name, cell number (for back up contact use only), and your address if mail order to carolyn@carolynsshadegardens.com.  We do not take advance orders for snowdrops.

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  We sell plants from approximately December 15 to June 15. The only plants that we ship are snowdrops to US customers only.  For catalogues and announcements of local events, please send your full name, location, and cell number (for back up use only) to carolyn@carolynsshadegardens.com.  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

.‘Sulphureum’ epimedium with yellow flowers and evergreen leaves is probably the most familiar epimedium in American gardens.  It spreads quickly (for an epimedium) to make an excellent groundcover, here around the base of an edgeworthia.

Epimedium is the botanical name of the genus but is often used as the common name as well along with barrenwort, fairy wings, bishop’s hat, and horny goat weed(?), among others.  It grows in part to full shade and prefers well-drained to dry conditions.  Most of our epimediums thrive on our back hillside among hostas and ferns; however, they also do well in average soil in our level perennial borders. 

Epimediums bloom in March and April, starting up just as the last snowdrops are going by.  Although a large patch of epimediums in full bloom is gorgeous from a distance, to truly appreciate the astonishing beauty of these plants, I like to view them up close.

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‘Yubae’ epimedium on the right with the orange flowers of Epimedium x warleyense in the top left corner.  Despite the size of this patch, ‘Yubae’ is fairly slow growing.

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‘Yubae’ epimedium

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Orange-flowered E. x warleyense, here with Hosta montana ‘Aureomarginata’, is an older cultivar but still one of my favorites.  It grows quickly for an epimedium and makes a great, evergreen groundcover.

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The beautiful and delicate leaves of epimediums are held aloft on wiry stems and provide a unique look and texture in the garden.  This is ‘Sweetheart’ epimedium, which, after 14 years, has formed a large patch at the base of a magnolia.

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‘Sweetheart’ has heart-shaped leaves outlined in red and dark pink and white striped flowers.

.The red in the flowers of ‘Domino’ epimedium is echoed in the breathtaking, elongated, spiky leaves, making it another favorite.  It also has the desirable characteristic of reblooming in late spring, and its leaves are evergreen.

.There are many epimediums with purple flowers, but ‘Pierre’s Purple’ is one of the best.  It has fine-textured leaves that are bronze-purple in the spring.

.Epimedium pinnatum ssp. colchicum has brilliant and early-blooming yellow flowers.  It makes a very good, evergreen groundcover.

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‘Cherry Tart’ has also formed a large swath after 14 years in our garden.

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The cheerful flowers of ‘Cherry Tart’ often have me kneeling on the ground for a closer look.

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The reddish leaves of Epimedium lishihchenii are quite striking from a distance.

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Epimedium lishihchenii‘s two-toned lemon yellow flowers also deserve a closer look.

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Epimedium stellulatum “Narrow Leaf Forms” is the earliest cultivar to bloom in our garden.

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‘Pink Elf’ also blooms early and produces a multitude of flowers.

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Another favorite, reblooming ‘Kaguyahime’, has two-tone purple flowers and elongated, jagged-edged, purple-splashed leaves (bottom center of photo).

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In the spring, ‘Frohnleiten’ has reddish-bronze leaves with eye-catching lime green veins topped by sulphur-yellow flowers.  It makes a fast-growing, for an epimedium, evergreen groundcover.

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The pale copper-pink and yellow flowers combined with the intense red foliage make ‘Cupreum’ a standout.

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A tiny epimedium, ‘Bandit’ fits perfectly in our rock garden and has unusual, dark purple-black banded leaves and pure white flowers.

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Carolyn

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Nursery Happenings: You can sign up to receive catalogues and emails about nursery events by sending your full name, location, and cell number (for back up contact use only) to carolyn@carolynsshadegardens.com.  Subscribing to my blog does not sign you up to receive this information.  Please indicate if you will be shopping at the nursery or are interested in mail order snowdrops only.

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a local retail nursery in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, U.S., zone 6b/7a. The only plants that we mail order are snowdrops and only within the US.

Facebook: Carolyn’s Shade Gardens has a very active Facebook Page where I post single photos, garden tips, and other information that doesn’t fit into a blog post. You can look at my Facebook page here or click the Like button on my right sidebar here.

Notes: Every word that appears in orange on my blog is a link that you can click for more information. If you want to return to my blog’s homepage to access the sidebar information (catalogues, previous articles, etc.) or to subscribe to my blog, just click here.

39 Responses to “Obsessed with Epimediums”

  1. I have just discovered epimedium here in Georgia, Zone 8A. I have lots of shade! I recently purchased Domino and a Rubrum. I have seen conflicting guidance on how much moisture and water they like! Your photos are gorgeous!

  2. Margot Navarre Says:

    Epimediums are the workhouse plant in my Pacific Northwest woodland shade garden and I adore them. Thanks for sharing some of your favorites. The yellow epimediums stand up nicely when not a lot of things are blooming in the woods. I have also had luck with snowdrops growing with the epimediums but the moles helped create this and wasn’t planned and have read this isn’t a great idea for snowdrops. Gardening keeps me happy 😃

    • The bright yellow epimediums like colchicum and Frohnleiten really show up from a distance. You need to get close to many of the others to truly appreciate their beauty; however, i love inspecting my plants closely. If snowdrops work in your epimediums, then I would go with it. Maybe I will try that myself.

  3. I have quite a few in my little woodland, but nowhere near as many as you or in such beautiful large clumps! They really are such lovely plants for shade and I wouldn’t be without them.

    • The very large clumps are epimedium varieties that spread like x rubrum, Sulphureum, x warleyense, ssp. colchicum, and Frohnleiten, and they have been growing for 20 to 25 years. The medium clumps like Sweetheart, Yubae, and Cherry Tart are from 2006. Epimediums require patience if you want large patches, but work quite well as perennials in borders.

  4. Beautiful! I really like them, but haven’t started growing any at our new place. I’m going to remedy that!

  5. Melanie M Yulman Says:

    I have several I bought from you (including Lilafee), and for a fall planting a few years ago, I ordered Frohleiten from Garden VIsions.
    Thank you – I knew to go to them because of your blog. I wrote to Karen there describing a bed surrounding my street tree in Philadelphia. She recommended Frohleiten because it spreads, and she thought it could hold its own against the Laurel tree roots and the muscari I also have there. It has spread nicely, and, this year for the first time, the flower spikes got very tall and the flowers floated above the beautiful green and reddish brown leaves. Absolutely beautiful. I want to plant some under a Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’. I might stay with Frohleiten but would consider another spreading variety that can compete with tree roots in a tiny city bed.

  6. Kate Georges Says:

    In Oregon, I have a thick band of frohnleiten under Sycamore trees and rhododendrons. The new spring leaves are gorgeous. Even when it is too wet to go out, the yellow flowers stand up and are visible from the house. I have smaller clusters of cherry tart and youngium niveum (?) but they are taking longer to establish and flowers are harder to see. I love the way you have planted single unusual specimens anywhere in your garden so you get to enjoy them all! Any vendors you recommend that might have some of the beauties you show here?

    • If you are ordering epimediums through the mail, Garden Vision Epimediums is the only place to go! I wouldn’t say your other epimediums are taking longer to establish. They will never spread as quickly as Frohnleiten. All epimediums are different and most of them should be viewed not as plants that spread but as clumpers. Cherry Tart spreads very slowly to make a larger patch. Niveum is a small and delicate epimedium that does not spread.

  7. Corinne Walker Says:

    I’m fortunate to live in Central Massachusetts within an easy drive of Garden Vision Epimediums. It’s always such a treat to go and see the plants in person and Karen’s display gardens are spectacular. I’m impressed that you made it to one of her open houses…that’s a long way from home for you! I first encountered epimediums 20 years ago at Tower Hill Botanic Garden, and it was love at first sight. Not too long after found Karen’s booth at the THBG plant sale, and the collecting began! My all-time favorite is E.’Pink Champagne’ but truly, I love than all. Sometimes the foliage is even more striking than the flowers! I like to plant them alongside spring ephemerals like trillium, bloodroot, Virginia Bluebells, and as you mentioned, they are great companions for hosta. Nice to know we share a passion for these great plants.

  8. The first one I bought, when I was just starting to get into gardening was ‘Sulphureum’. Silly me – at the time, I didn’t even realize how many amazing varieties there are. By now, the ‘Sulphureum’ is a nice clump, and I have completely gone off the deep end in terms of Epimediums. They are such cool plants! Thanks for the good overview!

  9. All these you’ve shown are so pretty! I only have one, epimedium grandiflorum violaceum, and it’s so dear. It’s just started to bloom over the past week. A delightful plant, indeed!

  10. Bill Bier Says:

    Nice post. The focus on the ground cover aspect helps. The viewing scale is certainly a consideration. I love some of the unusual leaf forms, such as the spiny ones, though that will have to be enjoyed up close. Like the flowers which are like tiny flocks of origami paper cranes floating.
    I appreciate your support of niche nurseries such as Garden Vision.

    Your post today reminded me of another blogger writing about Epimediums and Garden Visions in 2015? the spell checker changed Epimediums to epidemic.

  11. Like others have said above, they are popular and happy in the Pacific Northwest. A few are available in nurseries here, and people try them thinking that they would be as happy in the redwoods as they are farther north. It is not the same though. Some survive, and some actually do well, but it is not such a natural fit like it is in a less arid climate. Redwoods like coastal fog, but the weather is not as continually damp as it seems.

  12. Joan De Rosa Says:

    I try to get to Chanticleer Garden at least 2x a year from Long Island. How far are you from Wayne, PA and that garden? I would love to visit your gardens.

  13. I first planted epimediums at the base of a arborvitae hedge tucked between a metal fence and low stone wall that edged my driveway. It was an awkward little space, but very visible so I wanted to fill it in with an attractive, durable plant. The epimediums worked beautifully. They adapted well, required so little care and were situated where i could easily observe their delicate beauty every time I walked up and down my driveway in Bergen County New Jersey (NYC metro area.)
    Thanks for your lovely posts and photos!

  14. Cynthia Cronin-Kardon Says:

    Carolyn:

    I love epimediums, especially the orange one and have them planted everywhere. They bridge the snowdrop to hosta gap in my garden. I have been thinking of you as my hostas emerge. I keep thinking “in wonder what new gems Carolyn will have this year” and then remember; I need to wait until next year. My garden is everything to me right now, providing comfort and hope as each new plant emerges.

  15. Rhodelia Williams Says:

    Your Epimediums are beautiful, can they be transplanted. When and how to transplant
    them?

  16. I just planted my first epimediums last year, tiny “micro-divisions” that I brought home from a plant propagation class at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. I don’t know why I have never grown them before, since they are perfect for my woodsy setting and sandy soil. I am just seeing the first tiny leaves of my plants emerging, and it will be fun to see what their flowers look like.

  17. Joyce Wallace Says:

    Thank you so much for posting this article. I t made my “wishes and wants”more concrete . We are just beginning to see some epimediums for sale at local nursery , but they are very limited . Your photo are beautiful and comments are so helpful.

  18. Nancy B Matlack Says:

    I just discovered epimediums and planted 3 different epimediums last summer. I worried that they would survive because they disappeared well before fall. But they did survive and came back stronger and even spread a little!! However, I think it was a rabbit that chewed off almost all of the leaves on one and left just the stems. It was in a bed of perennials including hostas, wood poppies, ferns, lamium and pulmonaria; only the epimedium was eaten! I have now protected it and it is beginning to come back. The other two epimediums were untouched! Have you experienced wildlife pressure, rabbit or anything else?

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