Though not showy, European ginger performs many duties well
European ginger may not currently be at the top of anyone's perennial lust list. It is not a new introduction. It does not flaunt flamboyant flowers. In fact, the insignificant flowers it does produce in late spring are down near the soil and often covered by its foliage. And although my head is still turned by plants boasting bodacious blooms, as I grow older my appreciation for plants that solve a multitude of landscape challenges grows, even if they do so quietly.
Asarum europaeum, the botanical name for European ginger, is the European cousin of our native Asarum canadense, commonly called Canadian ginger. Canadian ginger grows a bit taller and spreads faster, but I think the more refined habit of European ginger is more attractive.
European ginger prefers a spot in part to full shade in moist, but well-drained soil that has been amended with an abundant amount of organic matter. European ginger spreads slowly by rhizomes to carpet small areas. It also self-seeds if it is planted in a favored location.
However, European ginger performs in dry shade, too -- a landscape challenge for many gardeners. For years, it has grown happily among the thirsty roots of silver maples in my landscape, without any supplemental water. It has not only survived, it has thrived.
What gardener wouldn't want a perennial that helps her battle weeds in the garden? None I know. The ground covering European ginger grows densely enough to thwart most attempts by weeds looking for a place to call home.
New perennials, no matter how much we may admire them, that can't make it through a harsh Midwestern winter aren't worth the money. Cold hardy to Zone 4, European ginger is tough, ready to handle the coldest winters Mother Nature might provide in northern Illinois. It may cost more than other ground covers but is worth every penny.
We all want perennials that are attractive all season. No matter its flowers don't garner attention, European ginger is all about the foliage. Glossy, leathery, rich green, rounded heart-shaped leaves are pretty all season -- from spring to fall. They are rarely bitten by insects or munched on by rabbits or deer. They even remain green in mild winters.
While some perennials are difficult to buddy up because of unique bloom color or variegated foliage, I can't imagine another perennial that wouldn't be a suitable companion for European ginger. It is pretty planted with fine-textured perennials like astibles, corydalis and ferns. Its glossy, dark green leaves offer mediation between variegated perennials like pulmonarias and hostas or enhances the color of vibrantly foliaged coral bells.
When a perennial is pretty all season long, grows in dry shade, is rarely bothered by pests or disease, grows densely enough to be a formidable opponent to weeds, and is a pleasing partner with all other shade-loving perennials, it belongs on everyone's lust list -- flamboyant flowers or not.
• Diana Stoll is a horticulturist and garden writer. She shares her garden adventures at gardenwithdiana.com.