Saturday, January 22, 2011

Strange bedfellows...

Perennial gardeners dwell on plant combinations with almost annoying persistence: a border is all about color repetitions and contrasts: rock gardeners are strangely silent on the subject. It's as if every rock garden plant is a gem set apart from any other neighboring plants. But in fact, rock garden plants often jostle and combine, and they certainly sit in proximity to one another. I find these combinations fascinating: who would think that a buckwheat from Wyoming, a woodruff from the Mediterranean and a South African succulent from the Eastern Cape province would grow so cheerfully next to one another? The buckwheat is Eriogonum ovalifolium, one of the most widespread and variable and truly wonderful plants in that great genus--this being a very congested form that Mike Kintgen brought back as seed from central Wyoming. The Asperula eludes me: I grow a half dozen or more and they are all wonderful and I get them mixed up: I'm sorry. I am not perfect. Sorry to disappoint...but the mesemb is another matter. I collected seed of it on a private farm near Tarkastad in the East Cape on my March expedition with Jim Archibald. Bergeranthus jamesii blooms from late spring to autumn, producing inch wide shaving brush flowers of luminous lemon. They are closed in the morning, revealing an orangy tint to the back of the petals, but in the late afternoon and evening the flowers positively glow. It is one of the longest blooming and most rewarding rock plants. I am amazed that it has not seemed to have attained much notoriety. It is dead easy to grow and produces buckets of seed. The buckwheat and Asperula have a long history in gardens, and are widely known and grown--but both only bloom for a few weeks and that's it for the year. The Bergeranthus is a summer long winner: and yet I don't think it is mentioned in a single one of the hundreds of rock garden books in my sizeable book case dedicated to the subject.
And yet not long ago, Graham Stuart Thomas in his magnificent book on rock gardening bemoans that everything in the way of alpines has already been introduced!
I don't think so!


  1. "Now this is not the end. It is no even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps the end of the beginning." Sir W. S. Churchill, 1942.

    Though the context is all wrong, lets hope the sentiment is not.

  2. Great quote that! Churchill was quite something: enjoyed his character in the recent "King's Speech"...he had a nimble wit and an unerring heart!


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