A Fairy Wing and a Prayer

Epimediums have long been a staple of the woodland perennial garden, but it wasn’t until plantsmen like Darrell Probst (US) and Mikinori Ogisu (Japan) began discovering and sharing the amazing wealth of unknown Chinese fairy wing species that their popularity began to take off.

It wasn’t until 1998 that epimediums begin appearing in the Plant Delights catalog, because before that time, the available horticultural offerings just weren’t that impressive. Plants like Epimedium x youngianum ‘Niveum’ are just hard to get excited about…if you’ve got much of a horticultural pulse. Sadly, that’s still the most dominant choice at most garden retailers.

Epimedium x youngianum ‘Niveum’

Another reason epimediums have been slow to become mainstream is the difficulty in getting good images. Because epimediums are so three-dimensional and prone to flutter in the wind, it takes quite an effort to take good images. Single flower closeups, which are much easier to take, always make me skeptical about how nice the entire plant will look in the garden.

When we were preparing to offer epimediums for the first time, we were faced with the decision of which of the three common names to use; fairy wings, barrenwort, and horny goat weed. Well, it doesn’t take much marketing savvy to choose from that list. That said, if we’d known that porn megastar Ron Jeremy would soon have his own line of epimedium tablets for male enhancement purposes, we might have reconsidered.

PDN/JLBG epimedium trials and study area

Once we became enamoured with fairy wings, we did as OCD people are prone to do, and built an entire research structure for the study, development, and trial of epimediums. We currently grow over 330 different epimedium taxa…some for study, some for conservation, and some which have enough garden value to share. It usually takes us about five years to fully evaluate a new epimedium seedling, comparing it to all other varieties on the market.

Since 2000, we’ve introduced over 27 of our own epimedium selections with more in the queue. Here are a few that we’ve already introduced that have proven to be excellent performers. We hope you’ve tried them all.

So, what’s next? Here’s a sneak peak of some of selections that have passed the final stages of in-ground trialing and are ready to head to container production trials. Our standards include good garden vigor, good floral showiness, and uniqueness from all other epimediums on the market. We like to think our standards are pretty high. We’d love to hear which of these future introductions below are your favorites.

15 thoughts on “A Fairy Wing and a Prayer”

  1. Linda Copeland

    And, I was thinking after a former message of yours, that some Epimediums might be a good “skirt” plant, too. I have one that is not named but looks like your Cosmic Stars. I think they are terrific plants, even when not in flower!

  2. The only one that doesn’t tempt me is ‘Temptation’, all others are unique and love the foliage especially.
    I was introduced to Epimediums by Harold Epstein many years ago on a rock garden society trip to his garden. I still have E. youngianum Niveum from that event, brought it with me from NJ to NC. A slow spreader for sure, I love it still. It’s dainty and perfect to tuck into small spaces between rocks. And no problem if I don’t have the time to cut off old stems before new growth comes up.
    It seems that Epimediums are going the way of Heucheras – too many options, not all distinct, but great plants for woodland ground cover and too expensive to use in mass for that purpose.

  3. I like “stoplights”; the orange “centers” are striking. Are there pics of these in winter? I have Epimedium sempervirens ‘Violet Queen’, and was impressed with the bright red foliage during the winter.

  4. My favorites: Chocolate Eclair and Little Dazzler. Spring Sunrise and Cinnamon Coconut win Honorable Mention.

    I have several epimediums; they’re really “growing on me.” Love your Sandy Claws and Amber Queen, as well as good old E. x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’

    1. If you want to propagate your own hellebores, growing them from seed is the easiest and most common way. Hellebore seeds ripen in May and June, and must be sown fresh since the viability of hellebore seed decreases rapidly in storage. Once the seed is ripe, it can be surface-sown in a pot of potting soil or in a well-prepared outdoor seedbed … do not cover the seed. Keep the soil slightly moist during the summer and be sure to leave the pot outdoors in fall. Once the seed has been subjected to adequate cold temperatures, it will begin to sprout. The chilling can occur in a refrigerator, provided you remember to remove the seeds when they begin to sprout and you have an understanding spouse. Helleborus lividus and Helleborus x sternii are some of the first seed to sprout, followed by Helleborus foetidus, then Helleborus x hybridus. In the garden, you can also simply allow the seed to fall to the ground, where it will germinate the following late February/early March.

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