Common name: Elephant ears – the name being a reference to the large, relatively broad, cabbage-like leaves. Bergenia is the correct botanical name for the genus.

Botanical name: Bergenia cordifolia. The genus name Bergenia was given in honour of Karl August von Bergen, an 18th century German botanist. The species cordifolia means “heart-shaped” and the leaves are, if not quite heart-shaped, at least they are broad and rounded.

Plant family: Saxifrage family. Saxifragaceae (saxifrage family) contains alpine saxifrages, London pride and the native Irish St Patrick’s cabbage. The name saxifrage means “rock breaker”, referring to the smaller alpine species which often grow in cracks in rock, which might seem like the plant had split the rock, whereas the plant is just taking advantage of a niche in which to grow. In general, saxifrages have a low rosette of leaves from which emerges relatively tall clusters of flowers. Bergenia is typical in shape with other saxifrages, but bigger in all its parts.

Decorative features

Although it suffers from familiarity and widespread use in gardens, bergenia is a victim of its own success, and its own prowess, because it is a very decorative, while being a durable plant. The common kind comes from southern areas of Siberia and northern China, some of the less-robust species are native to northern India. There are very few evergreen herbaceous plants that have broad leaves because these are generally vulnerable to frost damage. Some kinds of bergenia actually turn red when the weather gets cold. The hardier species can withstand very severe conditions.

The main vulnerability with the softer species is the flowers which can suffer in frosst. Evidence, though, of the general robustness of bergenia is the fact that many of the hybrids were bred in Germany to withstand German winters and this is the reason why “silberlicht”, meaning “silverlight” is so named. While most kinds are pink or magenta flowered, this one has pure white flowers on pink stems and the flowers fade to pink as they age. Most of the white kinds are not as robust and can suffer late frost.

Garden use

Bergenia is very versatile and can be grown in either sun or shade in any reasonable soil, and tolerates drought very well. It can be located at the front of a border to give early flowers in spring and foliage year-round. It can be used as a very effective groundcover between or under taller perennials and shrubs. It is a long-lived plant easily propagated by pulling out rosettes with some stem attached, often with roots. Plant these cuttings wherever they are wanted in the open ground.

Site and soil requirements

Any ordinary garden soil will be fine as long as it is not waterlogged in winter when the thick rhizomes have a tendency to rot. The leaves are leathery and robust and able to resist harsh weather and wind exposure. While they survive and grow in dry shady places, the best show of flowers and foliage is produced in relatively good soil in a position of sunshine.

Garden for wildlife

Frogs are back

Every year, in January and February, frogs arrive back in their breeding ponds. Frogs are amphibians, which means they can live in water or on dry land. In water, they breathe through the skin; on dry land, they breathe through nostrils. It is widely known that frogs come back to the same pond to breed where they were bred. It is believed that they recognise the smell of the pond – its algae and water.

The male frogs arrive first and may wait nearby or at the bottom of the pond until the females arrive. The male frogs mount the females and fertilise the eggs as they are produced. The spawn takes on water and rises to the surface, which is warmer. To begin with, they are sustained by a yolk sac and on the gelatinous spawn. They begin to feed on algae and may feed on insects as they grow larger, developing their legs and losing their tails before they leave the pond as small froglets.

In a survey carried out in 2017, it was estimated that 33% of frogs are bred in garden ponds and another 28% are raised in wet ditches, drains and farm ponds, the next largest habitat for breeding being 15% in bog pools. The froglets grow rapidly and reach breeding size in three years, living to seven or eight years. In winter, they go into hibernation under logs, stones and clumps of wet grass and leaves. They feed extensively on slugs and insects, but also on earthworms. They catch slugs by means of a sticky tongue which extends to about 8cm in length!

This week’s reminders

Fruit, vegetables and herbs

While the weather has picked up in recent days, some ground is still sodden. It is best to stay off the soil until it drains. In the meantime, carry out any remaining pruning of apples and pears and have vegetable seeds and potatoes ready for planting. New fruit trees and bushes can be planted.

Trees, shrubs and roses

Wait for the soil to dry and finish planting any bare-root or root-balled deciduous trees or shrubs within the next couple of weeks. There is still plenty of time still with evergreens. Bush roses and repeat-flowering climbers should be pruned now, if not already done.

Greenhouse and house plants

Increase watering now as growth begins and begin feeding too. Sow seeds of tomatoes, peppers and chillies now for greenhouse growing. Delayed sowing will mean late cropping and ripening next October. Tired old house plants can be rejuvenated by potting up.


Sow seeds of dahlias, French marigolds and petunias. Perennial flowers are showing good growth and lifting and dividing of herbaceous flowers can resume. This is the best time to move perennial flowers in gardens on heavy soil. Begonia tubers can be started off indoors.


The soil of lawns is soft with water and much too wet to begin lawn mowing. Until recent weeks, it was a mild winter and there has been heavy moss growth. Apply lawn sand or sulphate of iron on large areas if necessary. Acid soil favours moss and lime can help.