Epimediums with a Twist


Golden yellow grasses (Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola') and variegated iris (Iris x robusta 'Gerald Derby') enhance the spring interest

I'm always looking for new ways to pair old favorites. I typically combine the heart shaped leaves of Bishop's hat (Epimedium sp.) with lacy ferns and bold hostas for example. But a recent visit to the inspiring garden of Mitch Evans in Kirkland, WA showed me all sorts of exciting new possibilities to get me out of my design rut!

Play to ephemeral color

Play to ephemeral color

Enjoy the moment

Epimedium grandiflorum 'Lilafee' has got the most beautiful purple-flushed foliage with lilac-purple flowers held daintily like dancing stars. Placing in front of Gerald Derby iris (Iris x robusta 'Gerald Derby') highlights the exciting purple flush of the iris foliage, most clearly visible in spring. Although both the flowers and iris foliage color are short term effects this inspired pairing shows the importance of planning for such special moments.



Consider shade loving conifers


An unexpected combination with a conifer in part shade

Who would have thought of putting a conifer and Epimedium together? My mind immediately says its not possible since generally conifers need sun and Epimedium prefers shade. This is where knowing your plants comes in – and clearly Mitch does. The golden 'Tom Thumb' spruce (Picea orientalis 'Tom Thumb') will scorch in full sun and prefers dappled light making it a perfect companion to Epimedium x Amber Queen . I love the way the sunset colored flowers dance overhead like miniature Turk's cap lilies almost teasing the conifer. After all aren't Epimedium usually considered groundcovers yet here it is lauding it over its cowering partner!


Smoky purple hellebores look even better with a hazy backdrop of Epimedium x Frohnleiten



Color echo and contrast

This pine-hellebore-Epimedum trio made me smile. The sunny yellow flowers of Epimedium x Frohnleiten, one of my personal favorites, always brightens a spring day. The dark, sultry flowers of the hellebore echo the deeper tones of the Epimedium foliage while the pine casts enough shade for both to thrive, adding a fresh green to the color palette as well as a softer texture.



Your challenge question!

So what would you combine this ruby leafed beauty (an  Epimedium hybrid) with?


A combination worth getting down on your hands and knees for!




What about a finely textured red leafed maple and buttery-yellow primroses?


Wherever I looked in Mitch's garden there were carefully painted vignettes; special garden moments waiting to be discovered.


I for one will be referring to these images time and again when I need a dose of fresh design inspiration.

Ready to go shopping?

My sincere thanks to Mitch for letting me 'ooh' and 'aah' in his garden


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  1. Grace Peterson on May 3, 2013 at 8:45 am

    Delicious photos! I just saw an Epi paired with a bronze-foliaged Rodgersia. The bronze-y color echo was pure genius. I've got my single plant in a low, wide container under my Star Magnolia. It is paired with a hosta and Thalictrum ichangense 'Evening Star' which has the same type of leaves.

    • Karen Chapman on May 3, 2013 at 7:19 pm

      Grace, those combinations sound stunning! Especially love the idea of the Rodgersia

  2. Ann Kent on May 3, 2013 at 10:47 am

    Hi Karen, I decided to pick up your comments about epimediums via LinkedIn as I was dividing clumps in my own garden yesterday to place in some container gardens at the complex care facility where I work in Vancouver. I garden with the residents on a rooftop terrace and we always enjoy an opportunity to browse how other people combine small trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals for year round interest. Your gallery of container images is a wonderful resource for anyone gardening in the Pacific Northwest. I am also posting the link to the Gardens That Heal Facebook site so that my students and colleagues can take a look. Now I will have to seek out some of the newer, taller epimedium cultivars. Thank you, Ann Kent HTM.

    • Karen Chapman on May 3, 2013 at 7:22 pm

      Ann, thank you so much for taking the time to comment and I'm delighted that you consider my gallery a resource. Certainly we all share ideas, plants and seeds freely!

  3. debsgarden on May 11, 2013 at 8:11 pm

    I love these combinations, especially the one with the purple hellebores. Truly an inspirational garden; I want to see more!