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Plant of the Week

January 30, 1988|LINDA FRENCH

Bergenia crassifolia Winter-blooming bergenia

Perennial with glossy, round leaves

Beloved in England and Seattle, the winter-blooming bergenia ( Bergenia crassifolia ), with its clusters of rose, lilac or purple flowers, is the most recognized of the bergenias. Admired early in the century by British garden writer and designer Gertrude Jekyll for their "fine solid foliage," bergenias might seem to many gardeners to be old-fashioned and common. But just as styles of clothing are recycled in time, this plant is regaining popularity--and beginning to show up in local garden centers. A member of saxifrage family, bergenias may be listed at nurseries as Saxafraga .

Broad, Glossy Leaves

Now available is a spring-and-summer-blooming bergenia: Bergenia cordifolia "Rotblum," an improved selection grown by Walters Garden Inc. in Zeeland, Mich. (Have your nursery order it from Davids & Royston Bulb Co. in Gardena.) Its reddish-green, glossy leaves are broad and fan-shaped (7 to 8 inches long and 4 to 5 inches across), and 15-inch spikes produce clusters of red flowers. The leaves become less reddish in warmer weather.

Bergenias produce mounds of foliage 20 inches high and look nice used in borders and flower beds, and underneath roses and trees; they have also been suggested as a ground cover. Plant clumps, sold in one-gallon cans, 10 to 12 inches apart; they will fill in in one season. Bergenias can be practically neglected; in fact, as one grower said: "You can kill it by babying it." They do well in partial shade--full sun in coastal areas--and frost does not harm them. A soil with good drainage is a must. In the winter, bergenias need not be watered much; in summer water every three weeks or so. Watch for aphids, mites and snails.

In early spring or midsummer, when the plants get too thick, divide the clumps and replant the sturdiest ones.

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