There is nothing unusual or exotic about any of these plants. Indeed, they are often over-used in glum, inelegant ranks around office developments and the like. But the fault lies with the planting and not with the plants. When placed with a little more thought, they can set a distinctive tone - solid and sober, composed and permanent.
The Pyracantha, commonly known as Fire thorn, and Euonymus are not climbers, but shrubs that are happy against walls. The Bergenia, also called Elephant's ear, is an evergreen herbaceous plant which will fill the spaces at their feet.
Left to its own devices, the vigorous Fire thorn will form a large spreading shrub. Planted against a wall, it is happy to be clipped and trained into any shape you choose and will easily reach the top of first-floor windows. This variety, Pyracantha "Mojave", has glossy, slender, oval leaves which are an inch or two in length. In summer, it is smothered in a froth of white flowers, which have a musty smell and are loved by bees. By the early autumn they have turned into orange-red berries which will last well through the winter.
The Euonymus fortunei "Emerald 'n' Gold" forms a small shrub which will happily climb a few feet in height in the embrace of the Fire thorn's spiny branches. It has similar-sized leaves to the Fire thorn, but they are different in colour - grey-green with gold margins. These stand out brightly against the backcloth of the dark-green Fire thorn and look particularly good when the branches of the two plants have become thoroughly intertwined. In cold spells, the green-gold variegations burnish with tints of pinky- red.
The final member of this trio is the Elephant's ear, Bergenia "Bressingham White". It grows to 1ft high and has rounded, glossy, evergreen leaves which form a handsome base to its taller companions. These large leaves, like leathery saucers, make a good contrast to the finer-textured foliage of the shrubs. In spring, the plant bears clusters of small white flowers on stems that rise above the leaves.
All these plants are easy to grow and fairly uncomplaining, even in the soil at the base of walls, which is often poor and dry. For best results, add compost to the soil when you plant, keep them watered until they are established, and remember to feed them every once in a while.
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