Epimedium grandiflorum ‘Lilafee’ (Lilac Fairy barrenwort or bishop’s hat) has green leaves shaped like asymmetrical hearts and pretty purple flowers. However the foliage is especially nice in the Spring and Fall, when they are etched with red. Right now, they are developing their fall colour of red patterns along the leaf veins. The eye-catching foliage looks particularly attractive as it changes, adding a little more colour to the shade garden. These pictures are all from October, except for the flower photo.
The photo above shows the flowers from last spring. ‘Lilafee’ has a little extra pizazz then, when the new leaves have red bands all around the edges, although the photo above doesn’t highlight the red border. The edging emphasizes the asymmetrical heart shape to the leaves and makes them stand out. The flowers will start to bloom while the new foliage is still small, in mid to late spring. In my zone 3 garden, they are in flower for about a month, from the middle of May to the middle of June. They are the fourth perennial to start blooming in my spring garden, right after the Helleborus, Brunnera (Siberian bugloss) and Pulmonaria (lungwort). ‘Lilafee’ has purple blooms, a little larger than regular Epimedium. The flowers are held above the foliage, so they can be enjoyed without searching. The buds are a darker purple. Then as they unfold, the long spurs have white tips.
This cultivar ‘Lilafee’ is sometimes sold as ‘Lilac Fairy’, and you can see the dancing fairy effect in the picture above. If you are a marketer, it is not enough to have a great little plant, you have to have a catchy name, too.
Gradually the red bands disappear, and the flowers fade by summer. These dependable perennials provide a healthy green edge for a summer flower border. However, they don’t grab your attention in the summertime, since the green is not as noticeable. They are a nice setting for other leaves and flowers, though.
Then in Fall, the plain green leaves start colouring along the veins, developing pronounced red lines. They become a focus again, as other perennials fade out. After the transformation, the bolder colouring catches your eye. These Epimedium grandiflorum are planted next to some Cornus canadensis, which have a dramatic Fall change to purplish red. The two perennials make for a more lively October garden.
Epimedium are very low maintenance plants. They form a good groundcover, as you can see below, so there is not much weeding to do. These plants can handle a fair amount of dryness, so you don’t have to water frequently. Epimediums don’t mind a site underneath the tall conifers, which other perennials might object to. Plus, they are easy to fit into shady garden nooks. Some of mine only get an hour or so a day of light, and they do fine. Although they are easy care, they are not annoying or invasive like some shade groundcovers can be. They grow to the edge of the surrounding perennials, but don’t bother them. They are about 30 cm (1 foot) tall, so you can use them for underplanting, too. Then the Fall colour is an extra bonus.
In the photo above, the Epimedium grandiflorum are backed up by the finely cut fronds of two Athyrium ‘Ghost’ (ghost ferns) and bordered on the left by the heart shaped leaves of a Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’. In the back garden, I have them next to some Athyrium niponicum (painted ferns) and in front of some Dicentra ‘Alba’ (white bleeding hearts.)
The Epimedium grandiflorum have semi evergreen leaves, so they are another great plant for a short growing season. They remain green and patterned up until snowfall. After the snow melts in spring, they lose their old leaves, and grow new ones. These semi-evergreen perennials extend a short gardening season to make both late Fall and early Spring more interesting in the garden. You can see more spring photos and read more information about this Epimedium in this earlier article.
If you are looking for a low maintenance shade groundcover, with pretty flowers and nice Fall colours, Epimedium grandiflorum ‘Lilafee’ is a good choice.