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Choice, but Easy!

Choice, but Easy!

Sedum aff. purdyi - For the most part, Sedum purdyi is lumped with S. spathulifolium, and if you go on the Calflora site, the photos confirm this opinion. However, this collection by Ron Ratko and taken in the Siskiyou Mtns. Of Northern California, is exceptional and differs S. spathulifolium in several ways. Described by Ron as growing on loose, shaley outcrops, it forms, "...domed rosettes of yellow-green densely imbricated, rounded leaves - spaced like shingles on a roof." - making it easily separated from any random grouping of west coast sedums. It could be a new species or subspecies. Coming from a colder, drier area than other coastal collections, I have found it easy to grow, though it is restrained in both size and growth rate - both useful characteristics for an alpine garden. The tight structure with stems that are not so brittle, make it an attractive choice for a vertical position in a clay crevice - and this siting aspect perfectly displays this attractive anomaly from the Siskiyous.

Polygala chamaebuxus - Our native Polygala paucifolia which prefers the dry, acid duff of our woodlands is a silent jewel that when one stumbles upon a colony, one must simply stop and stare. Of more robust constitution the European P. chamaebuxus grows in lightly shaded spots in upland areas from Swiss Alps to the Bohemian Massif of the Czech Republic, up to 2500m elevation. This relatively broad altitudinal range affords it an carefree demeanor and indeed, even in an ordinary perennial garden, one can place it at the front where it will form a slowly expanding mat of low woody stems and lustrous, evergreen leaves - hence the moniker "chamaebuxus". In the rock garden, give it some space, perhaps treat it in the way you would any other small shrublet. It will run and fill a crevice nicely and soften the looks of the stone. All it really needs is a surface layer of organic material into which its sprawling surface stems may root - the underlying soil pH is not so important, though it prefers acid conditions, too. White flowers with a bright yellow keel represents the most common form found in nature; but, selected clones usually feature some lurid color of pink with the same yellow keel - showy, but less elegant than the type. My opinion is biased, but not prejudiced.

Eryngium glaciale - Every rock garden needs a thistle to emphasize, that in nature the scene can be messy if not chaotic. Well, if you can’t quite buy that line, step up to the new and improved model. Eryngium spp. have wonderful hemispherical flower heads in clear shades of blue. Of the smaller species, E. glaciale (to 20 cm) has deeply segmented leaves, blue/green with the obligatory terminal spines. The bracts beneath the flowers are similarly constructed with an added dash of silver - the flowers so resilient that they last for nearly a month beginning in late June. This plant is a glamorous package that exudes danger, and a coldness to counter summer's heat.

Androsace muscoidea f. longiscapa - This form was a one-off collection By Mojmir Pavelka at about 3700m in the Himalayan Garhwal, India. Similar to other collections it forms compact, globular mounds of very tightly bound rosettes, gray/green in color with prominent silky hairs. The plants grew very well from the beginning and we had ~ 50 seedlings. Usually Androsace spp. bloom on very young plants and by the second year for sure - not so in this case which only added to the tension and irritation, as I knew this was a colorful colony. By the third year the first flowers appeared and the delay was worth it. For what really sets this collection apart is the flower color which ranges through shades of progressively darker pink to a luscious lavender - not a very common color for Androsace.

Pavelka describes the habitat as, "...drier places of alpine meadows." And perhaps this drier (warmer?) imparts a hardier spirit and disease resistance, as we have found it to be very happy in the garden or in troughs. This is a plant that can be used for a crevice instead of a more mundane sedum or sempervivum.

Primula marginata - Often I hear, "Oh, primula I don’t have the right conditions." Well, it's a large genus with over 500 species, and a goodly number are very tough. Primula marginata is one those that can be dug up, thrown on a compost heap, and like a dandelion take up growing again. From the Maritime Alps and adjacent ranges where the granitic peaks rise from the sea to near 3000m. In this sun-drenched territory grows P. marginata in fissures of both limestone or granite - it simply doesn’t care about soil pH, heat or drought. It can survive anything thrown at it with the exception of over-watering. The basic form has leathery leaves with a distinctly jagged edge looking like edge of a circular saw. This margin is accented by a dusting of farina - like the hardened gilding imparted onto some tools. The central, woody stock is very robust, yet slender enough to fit in narrow crevices where the leaves may splay over the rocks, and the heat will ripen and toughen the plant more - it does not want a soft, comfortable life. Typical flowers are lavender shades, and the many selected forms range widely from white through dark pink. This is a Primula which everyone appreciates and anyone can grow.

Linum cariense - The a,b,c's of the tiny, high elevation flaxes are: L. aretioides, L. boissieri, and L. cariense. All are captivating, extolled and sought after by many including Farrer. Their cultivation has been limited mainly due to the dearth of seed available. All are from Turkey; l. cariense is the most widespread in nature and thus provides the most malleable personality for cultivation. It is a plant which transplants and adapts readily, graciously providing instant thrill as the yellow flowers form on very young plants. As usual, the Czech’s have given us the abundant seed collections to grow and offer the plants. Sultan Dag, Turkey is the locus classicus though it is found elsewhere at elevations between 100m and 2500m. Note that one of the synonymous names is L. lignosum, very aptly describing the corky, sprawling stems that trail out along the ground. The new shoots with blue/green leaves perfectly set off the bright yellow of the little chalices. Cultural needs are Spartan, a dry, exposed site with rocky, coarse soil low in organic matter - with a dash of rock powder (carbonatite or greensand) to slowly feed it. Elevated clay/crevice planting will give a different look and suit its needs. Tolerant of heat and humidity, it will benefit from a windy site.

Penstemon uintahensis - A localized endemic of the Uintah Mountains. of northern Utah, P. uintahensis is the smallest members of the section Glabri (smooth, without hairs) and it is really one of the gems of this genus. Growing at 3300 m. in slightly moist, cool alpine turf, the elongated, folded leaves curve out laterally from the central woody tuft. Above the dark green leaves, "...the ¾" sky-blue flowers are in compact verticillasters, resembling a broad capitate head barely surpassing the basal tuft." - Ron Ratko’s description. Indeed they are so bright and attractive, that as soon as they bloom you cannot ignore them. Although a high altitude plant, its moisture tolerance may explain its acceptance of alpine garden conditions - our original plants are from over 12 years ago and still perform well. Rarely seen on seed lists, even less often in plant catalogues, it is perfect for a treasured spot in an elevated scree and a first-rate for a trough specimen.

Saxifraga x ‘Jana’ - This is a plant that has brought us great joy and controversy. It is one of Miroslav Kraus' last hybrids, dating from the late 1990's. It is not on the list of officially recognized cultivars of the Saxifrage Society. It is so unique and beautiful in its qualities that it prevails over their judgment. Indicative of a Kraus cultivar, is the frosted mint green that shows S. marginata in its genetic composition. Kraus did this deliberately as he wanted cultivars to be beautiful, hardy and growable. Because it has vermillion/red flowers - not so common in this genus and usually comes from the less hardy, Himalayan species, Kraus named it after his grand daughter, Jana. Truly, it was his favorite. Last year I showed the plants to Josef Halda and inquired what he thought of its parentage, as it was through him in 2000 that we bought the remainder of Kraus' stock collection from his wife. I pointed out to him that this cultivar, though it is red-flowered, survives in our tufa garden in full sun. Very few other Kabshcia are capable of this, and certainly not any other red flowering cultivars, as they are a very fussy group. Josef said, "In 1996 when I returned with the first collections of the Caucasian species (Saxifraga), Kraus was very excited, but also very sad. He was over 80 years old and had been diagnosed with cancer. I gave him large specimens of the species that I collected including the dark flowering ones, S. dinnikii and S. columnaris. Both had flower buds. I am sure he made crosses right away." The red flowers of S. x 'Jana' are very like those of S. columnaris both in size and shape, but on longer stems. S. columnaris, though it grows in 'underhang' places like Dionysia, tolerates drier, hotter conditions than S. dinnikii. Quite possibly, it is the first of the new Caucasian hybrids from the Czech's. No one really knows. Though it lacks the "certification papers", it's not the first orphan to be a show winner.

(February 2010)

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