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Why bergenia? Big leaves, pink flowers, and you can't kill it.

Few evergreen perennials are as obliging as bergenias. Undaunted by ocean breezes or winter snows, these paddle-leafed plants flourish in all but the dry desert areas of the West.

Aside from their sturdy nature, bergenias appeal to gardeners because of their large leathery leaves and low, ground-covering habit. Landscape designers prize the plant's coarse texture, particularly effective as a contrast to finer-leafed ferns, azaleas, and pdocarpus. Bergenias give a crisp edge to a garden path or the front of border, but they are equally handsome on their own--massed in beds or small areas of ground cover.

The two kinds of bergenia commonly sold look very similar, with fleshy foot-tall foliage 8 to 10 inches wide. Their chief differences are these: leaves of spring-blooming Bergenia cordifolia are lobed at the base, while winter-blooming. B. crassifolia, the better known, has oval leaves. 'Evening Glow' and 'Sunningdale' are two available hybrids.

In mildest climates, B. crassifolia starts blooming now, giving welcome color to the garden at a time when it can be hard to come by. Both flowers (in shades of pink, rose, or lavender) and waxy green foliage last several days in arrangements. Where winters are cold, though, the leaves--not the flowers--provide color this month, turning reddish or bronze in the frost.

In low elevations, November is time to plant bergenias or propagate new plants from divided clumps. For top performance, set plants or divisions 10 to 12 inches apart in moist, moderately rich soil. Although bergenia persists under tougher conditions, it looks best in light shade, particularly in hot climates. Trim old leaves and bait routinely for snails.

You can start new plants by periodically cutting sprawling rhizomes (as shown in the pictures at left) from the parent plant. Or dig up and divide plants when they have become overcrowded, usually after two or three years. On old, neglected plants, discard woody crowns and replant just the vigorous divisions.
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Date:Nov 1, 1984
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