In 2011 I plunked down $28.00 for Epimedium 'Domino,' mostly because it had leaves that were longer and more spiny than any of my other Epimediums. It has grown at a snail's pace when it wasn't being consumed by rabbits. Last summer Mark and I were touring Olbrich Botanical Gardens with their director of horticulture, Jeff Epping. He said they usually cage new Epimediums for the first few years until they are firmly established. I went home and immediately caged my sad little plant.
Then I toured my garden to evaluate the 18 assorted Epimediums I've been growing since I planted my first one in 1991. The winners of this garden walk were obvious, two varieties that have a dense flower count and are prolific enough to be used as gorgeous weed-suppressing groundcovers rather than as specimen plants. More importantly, they are widely available and very reasonably priced.
I've been growing Epimedium grandiflorum 'Lilafee' or 'Lilac Fairy' since 1996. The leaves have an attractive purple cast when they first appear. I paid $6.55 for this plant at Flower Factory and 19 years later it still only costs $9.95.
The buds hang like pink pearls at the end of the stems.
This variety flowers with the new leaves on the plant which creates a different effect than many Epimedium varities.
The flowers are large and abundant.
Epimedium x rubrum is my other star. The flowers are a bit smaller than 'Lilac Fairy' but emminently noticeable because of their intense color.
The flowers begin to appear before the leaves but they do overlap.
Again, I grow this in large swaths all of which are the progeny of one original plant. An added benefit of this Epimedium is the beautiful tortoise shell patterning that the leaves take on. Heucherella 'Sweet Tea' in the background.
Though I can still be seduced by the Epimediums I see in the catalogs from specialty nurseries, I've learned my lesson. In the last 7 years I've been buying varieties that cost $20.00 on average. None of them are big enough or dramatic enough or truly different enough to justify the expense. If you are looking for lovely Epimediums that won't break your budget, you can't do better than 'Lilac Fairy' or Rubrum.