Bergenia's luck: This once-unloved plant has a persuasive new advocate
I'm beginning to think that Sarah Price could successfully start her own cult. She's a garden designer by trade, which doesn't seem the obvious first step to global domination, but she's one of those people who walks into a room and you find yourself wanting to agree with everything she says. Is it the inescapable fact that she is really, um, quite beautiful? Or her clothes, which are all mosaicky colours, causing you to ponder for a moment whether they are real velvet? Are those jewels embroidered into her hair? Is she an actual storybook princess?
This all makes it extremely hard to disagree with her. Especially as she also makes gardens of delightful beauty. And 2012 is due to be a big year: in May, Price is doing one of the most important commissions for the Chelsea Flower Show. Furthermore, in July, everyone who visits the Olympic site will see the glory of her work for themselves because she designed the planting for one of the major chunks there, too – the half-mile strip of park along the riverside. If planting plans and previous form are anything to go by, there will be meadowy jewels aplenty, in waves of colour.
It's her opinions on plants themselves, though, where I'm the most convinced. Or should I say converted? For example, I've always hated bergenias. Disgusting floppy leaves, Saturday-night vomit colours in the floral department. Then I read Price extolling their quiet, meditative beauty, and wondered how I could have got it so wrong. Particularly when she holds the flowers right next to her face, so I go all loopy for a second. Oh my god, is she actually hypnotising me?
Anyway, hypnosis or not, I'm suddenly noticing bergenias everywhere this spring. They are certainly quiet, get-on-with-it plants: I've always had a soft spot for this category of living things, which seem to survive in a garden without any apparent care at all. Stuffed into the corner of flowerbeds and driven over on the edges of drives, bergenias are the ultimate in uncomplaining plants.
But Price has a different attitude to these tolerant growers. Instead of leaving them tucked into places where you can't get anything else to grow, she reckons we should be isolating them, putting them in pots and celebrating their jewel-like qualities. There's a convincing argument here for doing as we're told: boggling along the margins of a disenfranchised flowerbed, bergenias look like lowly ground cover; brought to our attention as a garden-table centrepiece, they're a showstopper.
And once you've joined the cult, you begin to notice that each variety is slightly different. Here, Bergenia cordifolia, with a tiny head of rose florettes; there, Bergenia "Abendglut", with deeper softer flowers, held more delicately. Possibly the most energetic care they will require is removing the deadheads after they've finished flowering, in early May. And now I'm totally converted.
Get the look
The palest flowers touched with pink, reminiscent of almond blossom: would go beautifully with bronze grasses. £6.50 a plant
The prettiest of white bergenias, opening up a whole other range of colour possibilities. £4.90 a plant
Bergenia 'Pink Dragonfly'
Sturdy and enamel-bright, with the neat habit of looking perfect in a pot. £7.50 a plant
As chosen by Claire Austin; all plants from claireaustin-hardyplants.co.uk
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