Book Review: The Plant Lovers Guide to Epimediums

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I adore Epimediums.  If there was a plant that I might collect it would be these so when I was asked by Timberpress if I would like to review Sally Gregson’s new book The Plant Lover’s Guide to Epimediums I didn’t hesitate to say yes.

I met Sally some years ago when I spent a day at her home learning about plant propagation so I knew she was a good plantswoman but I didn’t know she was a fan of epimediums like me.  Well not like me as she has been researching and collecting them for a number of years now whilst I only really discovered them two years ago.  The book opens with an introduction in which Sally shares her passion for this dainty plant and explains how she discovered the wealth of new varieties that have become available particularly since the Chinese varieties were introduced.  In her view Epimediums are about to take the gardening world by storm. They are already popular with some designers like Dan Pearson who recognise that the plants are excellent for providing ground cover even in tough dry shade whilst at the same time providing interesting foliage with the added bonus of flowers in the early spring. And what flowers.  If you look at one of the newer Chinese species such as Epimedium ‘Egret’ the flowers can be the size of a 10p and they hang from long arching stems just like a fine fishing rod.

Anyway enough of my obsession and back to the book.  Essentially it follows a similar style to the other titles in this series.  Firstly you have a section in which Sally describes different groups of epimediums so ones for good ground cover, ones for acid soil, with small flowers, large flowers, good autumn foliage.  She talks about what plants they associate well with and how to create a woodland setting particularly to show off the plants off well.

Then the main bulk of the book is an alphabetical reference of 123 varieties which are easy(ish) to come by in the UK and USA.  I say easyish as I was particularly struck by Epimedium acuminatum ‘Night Mistress’ and I have yet to source one.  Each description is over one or two pages per variety and has a good size colour photograph, the background of the plant ie: where it was found or who bred it, and a description of the plant and its preferred conditions. 123 varieties! And I thought I had a good range with 12!

The next section is on Growing and Propagating including improving the soil, all epimediums even the drought tolerant ones need improved soil, how to plant, how to maintain the plants, even how to grow them in pots and containers, which hadn’t occurred to me, propagating by seed and division.  We also have the obligatory section on pests and diseases which seem to be mainly limited to vine weevils and rabbits.

Finally, in  my favourite section Sally talks about the history of epimediums, how the Japanese and then the Chinese varieties were introduced into the West and the future of hybridising.  We finish with an introduction to the various plants men and women around the world who are breeding new varieties and, for me, some new nurseries to seek out.

I can see this book becoming a bible for me.  I have already made a list of the varieties I have in the garden, well the ones that I still have labels for, and I will be reading up on them to learn more. But what I really like about this book is that it is clear that Sally is passionate about epimediums.  You can always tell when the writer knows their subject or when they have just done a bit of research before hitting the keyboard and Sally is definitely in the first category.

I suspect that the lovers of epimediums are currently few but if you like woodland or shade plants or are into foliage then you really should consider looking at this book as I am sure you will be stunned at the variety of epimediums available both in flower and foliage colour, shape and size.

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17 Comments Add yours

  1. Pauline says:

    This sounds a very useful book, like you I love the Epimedium family and have quite a few varieties, mainly in the woodland. I buy mine from Long Acre Plants who only sell shade or boggy plants and at the moment he has 20 + varieties, he might have some that you are looking for.

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Pauline
      I was going to check out Long Acre – they are one of the nurseries listed in the book and I know they are good for ferns as I went to a talk by the owner on ferns.

  2. Julie says:

    I really like Epimediums too Helen, although I only have one at home, name currently escaping me! A lovely review, I shall look out for Sally’s book.

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Julie
      I really like the one with big flowers on the long wiry stems

  3. This sounds like a ‘must have’ book Helen. I love epimediums too, although I’ve probably only got about eight varieties at the moment and like you some of the labels are annoyingly missing! I always remember my first encounter with E. Niveum album at Bressingham Gardens sbout 25 years ago, it’s gorgeous chocolate coloured young foliage was just emerging and I was smitten. However this is one variety that I have struggled to establish over the years, but now ,fingers crossed I’ve succeeded. Having quite alot of deciduous shade around my garden seems to suit them well.

  4. rusty duck says:

    It’s a definite must have for me. Thanks Helen.
    Only three here so far, I can see new acquisitions will have to go on the steepest part of the bank.. away from the bunnies.

  5. Helen – check out epimedium epsteinii. It’s my favourite and is similar to ‘Night Mistress’

  6. Intriguing. We only have a yard, and it is mostly shade, so this sounds like a useful plant.

  7. Anna says:

    I can quite understand the attraction Helen. I only have a couple but would be happy to add more although I can’t see a collection coming on. You know what my fatal attraction is. Good luck with tracking “Night Mistress” down. Thanks for your thorough review.

  8. Chloris says:

    I am mad about epimediums too, so thanks for the review, this book sounds just what I need. The Beeches Nursery near Saffron Waldon has an amazing number of these lovely plants.

  9. Matt Mattus says:

    As a long time Epimedium fan here in the states (my friend and neighbors include Darell Probst), you inspired me to get this book – seems like a super good reference for both design and varieties. Ordering it now!

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Matt
      I don’t think you will be disappointed. Being Timberpress it is written for the US market as well and includes nurseries. Glad to find more Epimedium fans

  10. I got the Snowdrop book in this series and am thrilled at the new titles like Epimediums. Like Matt, I have been growing them for some years. I heard Darrell Probst speak quite some time ago and got hooked. Just got Garden Visions Epimedium catalog yesterday. Because Darrell spoke here in the Midwest, Epimediums are popular here though I still find I have to do mail order for the best selection. I also have only ever had rabbits eat a new young plant. They generally leave established plants alone.

  11. Of Gardens says:

    I, too, have joined the ranks of epimedium fans. I’ve had the real pleasure, and education, to visit Darryl Probst’s nursery and purchase some epimediums from him. I’ll get the book and see what other treasures I can acquire for my garden.

  12. susurrus says:

    Many years ago, I dug up a clump of green leaves, and left them out of the way on some pavement, planning to relocate them. I have to confess I forgot all about them. Some time later, I discovered they’d miraculously produced sprays of tiny but beautiful flowers, elegantly held on slender stems. They turned out to be epimediums: I’ve been enchanted by them ever since.

  13. Cathy says:

    I was pleased to see you reviewing this Helen as when I saw it mentioned in the RHS magazine I was surprised as at the time as I hadn’t thought there would be nearly enough varieties to write a book about. I like them too, both flowers and foliage, but had only come across a handful of varieties until you mentioned more about them on your blog recently. I think I may be seeking out the book too – and making a note of these nurseries people have mentioned! Thanks all round, Helen 🙂

  14. I pre-ordered this book from Amazon..and chuffed to bits as it arrived yesterday . It really is a great book for epimedium lovers.

Please feel free to leave comments as its always lovely to get feedback. I try to respond to comments as much as possible but sometimes life and work get in the way but I will do my best to respond especially if your comment is a question.

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