When we landscaped our new office building at Little Prince of Oregon Nursery two years ago, we planted many plants for evaluation purposes, so that we could see first-hand how they performed in the garden. A wonderful standout in these trials has been Bergenia ciliata ‘Dumbo’. The genus Bergenia is commonly called pigsqueak, which in my book is just about reason enough to grow it! It gets the name from the sound that is produced by rubbing two leaves together, though this is a bit misleading in the case of Bergenia ciliata because the hairy leaves of the species tend to be less squeaky. B. ciliata ‘Dumbo’ is an outstanding selection, aptly named for its elephant ear-like leaves which are a fuzzy green throughout spring and summer but take on a lovely pinkish hue in fall. In the spring, clusters of soft-pink flowers stand atop thick fleshy stalks about a foot above the plant. The plants get a little over 12 inches tall and spread a couple feet across. ‘Dumbo’ will thrive in sunny locations provided it has plenty of summer water. It will also be quite happy in light shade. Bergenia grows is a variety of soil types from rich organic loam to sandy soil to clay soils. In any case, good drainage is important.
B. ciliata is native to the Himalayas, growing in temperate climates from 6,000 to 10,000 feet elevation. It is resistant to deer and rabbits and has no serious pest problems, though I’ve noted from experience that it will host root weevils if there are other weevil magnet plants grown adjacent to Bergenia in a nursery setting. Good IPM strategies will avoid this problem altogether, and ‘Dumbo’ will sell quickly enough that this isn’t a serious concern.
One consideration with ‘Dumbo’ is that it is deciduous, though we are finding that in our typical Zone 8 winters in Portland, it remains evergreen. For that reason, when grown in mild climates, ‘Dumbo’ is a beautiful container plant with year-round interest. It is often used in combination with a grass-like Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ or Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’. Darker leaved colocasia in combination with ‘Dumbo’ and a yellow accented grass like Carex Evercolor also makes for a stunning container.
Why grow Bergenia ciliata ‘Dumbo’?
- It’s an unusual, somewhat uncommon plant that commands a high price.
- It’s deer and rabbit resistant.
- It’s a beautiful container plant.
- It’s useful as a border plant in sun or light shade.
- It’s attractive to pollinators, especially bees.
Mark Leichty is the Director of Business Development at Little Prince of Oregon Nursery near Portland. He is a certified plant geek who enjoys visiting beautiful gardens and garden centers searching for rare and unique plants to satisfy his plant lust. firstname.lastname@example.org