Twenty years ago, six months after he returned from his first trip to China and was preparing for a fall trip to Japan and Korea, Darrell Probst started this nursery business with a 5 page photo-copied catalog. It included 36 epimediums, 2 companion perennials, 9 donor plants available for a contribution to his Expedition Fund, and 10 plants that he auctioned. He began researching and collecting Epimediums from far and wide, only 3 years previous. What started as mere curiosity, developed into a full-blown obsession to collect, discover, name and ultimately distribute this under-appreciated shade plant to the general gardening world. This business grew because of his passion for the genus.
Today we offer 177 different species and varieties of Epimediums, along with 28 different hard to find companion shade perennials. The print catalog with this year’s collections and new offerings is finally complete and in the mail, but you can download a copy of the 2017 edition and new photo sheets now. As I type this, it gently snowing outside, cloaking my Nordmann Fir with its cool white lights shining brightly, and reminding me that we are still in the thick of winter here in Massachusetts. Thoughts of Epimediums to come while putting together the catalog have given me a nice arm-chair mini-vacation. I hope you will feel the same.
In the spirit of celebrating the last 20 years, I am highlighting six of the plants that Darrell first offered in 1997. He had them in such small quantities that he sold them at a premium– at least $75 each, to fellow collectors who wanted the latest and greatest, and/or to supporters who wanted to assist with his early collecting efforts. They all still remain great plants today, but this Twentieth Anniversary Throwback Collection is much more reasonably priced.
A favorite of mine, but one that is generally under-appreciated is the Japanese variety E. ×youngianum ‘Tamabotan’. The cup and spur parts of the flower mimic the form of the inner sepals, creating a “double-flowered” effect. Blooms are a soft lavender, against dark spring foliage with fleeting turquoise highlights. Not a heavy bloomer, but still worth a special spot where you can enjoy its magical spring colors.
Another selection with interesting foliage is E. diphyllum ‘Variegatum’ with its white flecked spring variegation which fades over the growing season, but is still evident come fall. Small, white, bell-shaped flowers complement the dappled spring foliage.
E. × ‘Enchantress features light, greyish-pink, medium-sized flowers suspended over light green, arrow-shaped leaves that are marked with faded maroon flecks in spring, giving the plant a soft “stone-washed” appearance. The leaves eventually darken to a deep evergreen. A terrific slow-spreading plant for a small garden space. Fall color, given a bit of morning sun, can be a spectacular rich red.
And speaking of rich red, E. sempervirens ‘Violet Queen’ is a riot of color in bloom, with violet-lavender blooms held against cherry-red new spring foliage that is furrowed with green veins as the leaf expands. Early blooming, it provides companionship to daffodils and other spring bulbs.
E. × ‘Asiatic Hybrid’ is a clumper with smooth, arrow-shaped leaves that bear rusty-rose new spring growth that repeats after flowering during a second growth flush. Small, spritely flowers in light and dark pink are sprinkled along erect stems extending above the foliage. Well behaved, it is a beautiful evergreen addition to any shade garden.
Lastly, E. grandiflorum ‘Purple Prince’ gives the garden a royal purple glow in bloom, the darkest-flowered Epimedium that we offer. A good grower that clumps up quickly. Spring leaves emerge a muted rose, and reach a height of 18” at maturity.
To see all of these great garden varieties in bloom in a garden setting, I welcome you to visit during my extended Open Nursery Days in late April and May. Seeing these plants in a garden setting is absolutely the best way to appreciate their charms. As always I look forward to serving you– our loyal and enthusiastic customers. Thank you for your patronage and for helping to preserve, appreciate and perpetuate Barrenworts, Bishop’s Caps and Fairywings. Karen Perkins