I set out a dozen Epimedium perralchicum 'Frohnleiten' plants. Frohnleiten means fairywings in German, referring to the delicate wands of flowers.
How utterly delightful. I was captivated by the name, the promise of fairy flowers, the advertised red tinged leaves, and the rarity of a plant that can thrive under trees.
I planted. I waited. Nothing.
They did not perish, but they did nothing for three years. They never bloomed, the leaves were tiny and unimpressive and they simply did not go anywhere. No massing, no ground covering spread. In winter they disappeared underground entirely, and in spring they barely emerged, timid and tired looking. Hmmpph, I said, fugheddaboutit. And I did. I forgot all about them. What a disappointment. Pffft.
This spring as I walked past the dogwood, I was stopped in my tracks. What was this?
The epimediums (epimedia?) had not only exploded in bloom, but had massed and were starting to spread out around the trunk of the dogwood. And there were real fairywings of bright yellow flowers wafting around above the fantastic foliage.
The foliage! The rusty red edged leaves are stunning. They look as if fairies stenciled them in curly heart shaped patterns. Where was this plant for three years?
It turns out epimediums are very slow to establish, but once they do, they really bulk up.
Two years ago I put some more in around the trunk of a large maple. This time I planted Epimedium alpinum 'Rubrum', a common variety that has pink and white flowers and light green leaves with red overtones. Like my fairywings, this variety is also disappointing right now, just two seasons after planting. It's still in the fuhgeddaboutit stage.
But unlike 'Frohnleiten' the 'Rubrum' barrenwort is actually blooming already; sparse and thin looking, but blooming.
This time I won't forget about them. I know I must wait another year or two or three. The 'Rubrum' plants will mass and fill in under the maple tree, all in their own good time.
I had given up on this perennial. I really had --- I thought it was a big nothing and couldn't understand why people even planted them, except the options for dry shade are so limited. But give this plant four seasons at least. It will make you take notice.
(I'm delighted with the rust red leaves and sulphur yellow flowers of Frohnleiten . . . . BUT . . . they are sitting beneath a pink flowering dogwood. When the pink blooms come out in a week, will they look horrid with the maroon and yellow thing going on below? Will the shoes clash with the outfit?)