Many people complain that some Epimediums flower beneath their foliage, thus taking away from the display. That usually doesn’t spoil their intrigue for me, as the leaves are so immature and tiny during bloom, that I don’t think that they obscure the blossoms until the end of flowering, when the later flowers can be engulfed in the enthusiasm of the expanding foliage. One of my customers suggested that I list which types hold their flower heads high above the leaves, so you have her to thank for this article. Not surprisingly, many those plants are hybrids, the result of the breeder’s efforts to create a more dazzling spring show of flowers. The following selections not only bloom well above the foliage, but bloom in profusion when sited in bright shade and humus-rich, well drained soils, creating quite a show. Instead of relegating these shining stars to the ‘shady woodland border’ why not place them in a prominent spot in your garden as a specimen perennial, in as much sunlight as they can tolerate in your region for best growth and bloom.
Two species immediately come to mind, E. brevicornu and E. stellulatum, both from China and sporting billowing panicles of small star-shaped white flowers held high above heart shaped, deciduous papery-thin leaves in the case of the former, and rounded to arrow shaped, toothed evergreen leaflets on the latter. The two also are very early bloomers with long lasting bloom stems, and particularly cold tolerant for Epimediums. A third species, Epimedium pubigerum, a native of Turkey, also holds its towering columns of white or light pink flowers up high. Shaped like little “molars”, the flowers make up for their small size in their great numbers. This species is particularly drought tolerant, with semi-evergreen heart shaped leaves.
Two strong growing evergreen hybrids created by Darrell Probst from plants collected in China are E. × ‘Domino’ and E. ×‘Pink Champagne’. Sibling seedlings. I often think of ‘Domino’ as the male, and ‘Pink Champagne’ as it’s female counterpart. Both send up long sprays of spidery flowers well above the foliage- ‘Domino’ has a white flower with cranberry cup, and ‘P.C.’ has a pink wash to both flowers and the new growth. Both are very floriferous and often re-bloom and produce second growth foliage if they are happy in their environment. They each have a graceful elegance about them, throwing their leaves out in a wide-spreading arch. Their new leaves are flecked with maroon spots, almost like gold flakes floating in a hopeful prospector’s pan. If you are looking for a specimen Epimedium for a special place in your garden, either of these cultivars fit the bill.
On the shorter side of the Epimedium spectrum, two selections of E. ×youngianum are ‘Fairy Dust’ and ‘Be My Valentine’. They bloom later and are covered in silvery-purple/white and hot cherry pink /white flowers respectively. Similarly E. grandiflorum ‘Circe’ will produce a vibrant patch of red-violet blooms atop the foliage, a color that easily reads from a distance. “Fairy Dust’ and ‘Circe’ both have a slight brownish tinge to the new growth, a backdrop which enhances the bloom color. Another yellow-flowered diminuitive reblooming hybrid from Kelly Dodson is E. x ‘Sunshowers’, with a raft of soft yellow flowers above new foliage speckled with maroon flecks.
A Diana Reeck introduction, E. × ‘Making Waves’, and Darrell Probst’s E. × ‘Flame Thrower’ are both late-season bloomers. ‘Making Waves’ as an undulating, banded edge to the new spring foliage. Its perky lavender flowers are held high above this wave of foliage for a good show. If it is an evergreen, particularly drought tolerant and long-blooming plant you want, E. x ‘Flame Thrower’ fits the bill. Its profuse flowers are held horizontally out to the sides of a mound of handsome, arrow-shaped evergreen leaflets.
I hope this short article brings to light some of the showiest epimediums in bloom, that hold their flowers high.