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Mukgenia Nova ‘Flame.’

It's not too early to think about what your garden will look like in autumn. And the moody days of fall would certainly be lit up with Mukgenia Nova 'Flame.' Yes, it has a spring bloom of intense deep pink, but that is a charming bonus. It is the colour, strength and shape of the leaves that will be most entrancing.

This cultivar is a cross between Mukdenia Crimson Fans and Bergenia spp. It takes the best qualities of each, and, since both are great plants, what a thrill it is to hear about this new one from Terra Nova Nurseries in Oregon. That southern source may cause a frisson among northern gardeners, but the developers have kept hardiness in mind, so this is one to bet on.

Because the thick leaves of Mukdenia always looked vivid in my garden no matter how often I lost it, I would buy yet another because it was such a favourite and an important autumn element. Crimson Fans has serrated edges with streaks of brilliant magenta. Mukgenia Nova Flame has those same dense leaves with even more intense colouration. The size is a tidy 15 centimetres high by 30 centimetres wide.

Mukgenia is the perfect edger and even better in a small cluster (although mass plantings look silly to my eye). They never stop giving pleasure, and in our miserable climate manage to look a bronze shade all winter. When the spring blooms come out in bursts of radiant magenta/pink, it's not only cheerful but early insects love it as well.

John Derrick of Elk Lake Garden Centre in Victoria has wintered Mukgenia in fairly rugged circumstances. The leathery leaves are even thicker than those of Bergenia, he says, "and the flaming colours last longer into the autumn. But, it probably needs a second year in the ground to do anything as gorgeous as the mature plants we're seeing right now. The spring flowers are such a bonus."

It is a fully deciduous plant, which means it will disappear in the winter so as not to be exposed to the cold and comes back up as soon as the soil starts warming. It's a hardy Zone 4 plant and, best of all, thrives in part-shade, but it can put up with a little sun. Keep an eye out for it or ask your nursery to bring it in.

Get Mukgenia Nova 'Flame' at garden centres such as Elk Lake Garden Centre in Victoria, B.C. (250-658-8812), where it retails for $8.95.