Until recently the hardiness of this genus has been unknown but is generally regarded as only being borderline hardy and unsuitable for planting out for most parts of the UK (apart from the milder regions in the south). However it is proving to be a lot hardier and tougher than previously thought of based on the experience of several gardeners including us here.
In previous winters all of the ones we have remain in leaf until the prolonged cold spells arrive, in which some die back to the ground whilst others remain evergreen. It was only last winter that all of them got cut back to the ground, but all sprouted back again once it warmed up in the spring. I can say that they are hardy to at least -10 celsius, with several days of continuous subzero temperatures based on our experience here.
Farfugiums thrive well in a cool, moisture retentive spot, tolerating light to medium shade but preferring to be in a bright spot that doesn't get too much direct sun on it either. If sited in too much shade it produces leggy growth, and if the planting area dries out and often then the leaves start to wilt and succeeding growth are not as lush as before.
This year I decided to make a small area dedicated to my Farfugium collection so I've taken divisions last spring from some of the ones planted out and placed them side by side in wooden troughs, so the difference between them can be easily seen. I've also dug up a couple of specimens earlier in the summer as they were struggling in their planting spots due to lack of moisture. I'll pot grow them for a year or two so they can recover and bulk up, then hopefully divide them later on so I'll a few more extra plants I can try in other parts of our garden.
Farfugium japonicum 'Aureomaculatum'
A yellow variegated Farfugium that is one of my favourite plants in the garden and is one of the more frequently asked about plants by visitors to the garden. The leaves are large, glossy, and marked with bright yellow spots. It's one of those plants that look great when sited in a lightly shaded area as it helps brighten up the spot with it's fluorescent yellow markings. A very exotic and tropical looking Farfugium that looks great when used in tropical themed borders and gardens to help reinforce the atmosphere. It associates well with traditional and cottage style gardens too, providing contrast to other plants with its unusual looking foliage.
Farfugium japonicum 'Tsuwa-Buki'
A plain green cultivar that has angular, crested leaves and growing a touch smaller than the other plain green types. It is typically mound forming and looks great in a pot where it can look like a ball of leaves resting on top of the pot. Another one that I found much tougher than the others and have remained evergreen on previous winters. This one is a division of the original one planted out in the garden and is enjoying the extra moisture it currently gets in the wooden trough.
Farfugium japonicum 'Argenteum'
My favourite variegated form; easy to cultivate, very stable, and a vigorous grower. Each green leaf is randomly marked with sections of pure white and smudges of it in certain areas, producing a pleasing pattern that is easy on the eye. Occasionally it throws out all white leaves too, and if sited well does not burn and remains pristine for a long time. A very, very attractive Farfugium that I can't praise enough and love using all over the garden.
Farfugium japonicum 'Bumpy Ride'
A large and leafy plain green cultivar that has angular leaf margins and looks great in most borders, associating well with both summer flowering plants, and other foliage plants with leaves contrasting to its own. I find this vigorous growing Farfugium easy to cultivate and versatile enough to use all over the garden.
Farfugium japonicum 'Kaimon Dake'
Another variegated form with almost pure white leaves emerging in the spring and intermittently throughout the growing season. The new leaves initially look like they've been lightly dusted with brown powder which it gradually loses as the leaves get bigger, turning more glossy and speckled green on a white base. A collector's Farfugium and appeals only to gardeners who are keen on this sort of variegation. It's not as vigorous a grower as most other cultivars, more likely due to having more white on the leaves than green, but has also been surprisingly tough here. It was one of the few that remained evergreen on previous winters but it was planted under the canopy of Trachycarpus leaves which gave it some shelter. I decided to dig it up this summer as it was struggling due to it's spot becoming more dry as the other neighbouring plants take in more moisture than before, and bulk it up in a pot so I can divide it in a year or two. At the moment it is huddled with my other potted specimens.
Farfugium japonicum 'Crispatum'
A lovely cultivar that has new leaves emerging very crinkly and looking like it was dusted with brown powder, and as the leaves enlarge the leaf margin remains crinkly and curly, reminding me of lettuce leaves. I find this Farfugium very attractive and love the overall clumping, mound forming habit of the plant. It's another one I had to dig up this year to bulk up in a pot for a year or two.
Farfugium japonicum var. Giganteum
If you like big leaves then you'll love this plant. This variety produces very large leaves for a Farfugium and glossy too, which adds to it's impact and attractiveness. Give it lots of moisture and extra feed during the growing season and site it on a bright spot, then stand back and watch it grow. Of all the Farfugiums here this is almost always the last one to come back in the spring, but once it does it more than makes up for its late start with vigorous growth in the summer. If you have a jungle style garden then I'd say this plant is a must.
I intend to continue collecting them as more cultivars become more available in the UK. Lots of Japanese gardeners and plant enthusiasts seems to have a love affair with variegated types of this plant, as well as those with unique leaf shapes so more will become available here eventually. There is one cultivar that is easily available here but somehow I haven't got yet, F. j. 'Ryuto' which has scabrous marks on the leaves that make it look more diseased than ornamental. A curiosity cultivar that I don't find attractive myself (hence I haven't got one) but for the sake of collecting I might acquire one later on
I think Farfugiums are fantastic foliage plants and can't recommend it enough, especially to other foliage gardeners like me. I'm not keen on the flowers, I could do without them especially after seeing swathes of them in bloom under glass inside the main glasshouse at RHS Wisley and growing outside in several gardens in Madeira. But the foliage alone makes it well worthwhile growing and a worthy addition to the garden.