Friday, May 28, 2010


Eavesdropping strangers have been known to gasp and be horrified as rock gardeners start to rhapsodize about one another's buns. It does verge a bit on the mildly salacious when you hear some people moan and coo over someone's irresistible bun in their garden. Surely no buns are harder, more rhapsodical and amazing than the endless clan of sandworts. Sometimes classed as Arenaria, they are often split into Minuartia: under both these names you will find dozens of serviceable and often very handsome alpine plants that are an undervalued asset to our gardens. Numerous books have been written about primulas, saxifrages, gentians and dianthus. But sandworts languish a tad, barely meriting a few measley articles. I protest this sad state of affairs!

It is time we acknowledged the enormous contributions sandworts make to the high alpine screes and ridges. Let's begin by praising Arenaria alfacarensis, surely one of the most adaptable, showy and spectacular of tight cushion plants. This is one manifestation of a half dozen or more species of high alpine sandworts that are restricted to the summits of Spanish peaks. For years many of us have tresured Arenaria tetraquetra, also from Spain. Then along campe A. tetraquetra var. nevadensis, which was a vastly congested version of the last. Shrink this last species to a fraction of the size and you have one of the most delightful and adaptable high alpine cushion plants. Here you can see a fabulous specimen on the north crevice garden in the Rock Alpine Garden at Denver Botanic Gardens.

You can get quite large plants of this from Timberline Gardens or Laporte...come to think of it, I may need another one for a trough...

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