Saturday, November 17, 2012

Friendly strangers

There's really nothing so very strange about the "Persian candytufts" (Aethionema)--although their name derives from the ancient Greek "aethes", which means strange. They are foreign to most gardens since these are quintessential rock plants. And one of the many good reasons to have a rock garden. I've noticed over the years that the best rock gardens usually feature plenty of these, and not to brag too much, mine has more than most. Here some of innumerable Aethionema grandiflorum in my garden (the form once sold as A. pulchellum--and certainly different from the A. grandiflorum I have grown from wild seed: botanists! get your act together!). This forms a miniature, gnarly shrub in time, and lives forever, and grows vigorously provided it is not too wet or too shady. They do pop up everywhere for me: I have a problem weeding them out, so I seem to have a few more every year...oh well.

Most Aethionema are pink, but I obtained this white one years ago from one of the Czech collectors and I believe it is A. iberideum from Turkey. Alas, it does not produce seed and if I don't propagate it soon from cuttings we may lose it.

This diminutive and very prostrate Aethionema glaucescens would be welcome in the more intimate crevice garden or trough--much more manageable than its sometimes robust cousins. It generally stays under two or three inches tall--although it can eventually get six or eight inches across.

I believe this is the true A. schistosum: over the years I have received a half dozen very different plants under this name. This one is a good pink, and almost as compact as the last species. I recommend it wholeheartedly for the small rock garden or trough!

In my experience, Aethionema subulatum has the darkest pink flowers of the genus (so far). It isn't the smallest species, but does not get as large or seed as much as A. grandiflorum. I am surprised this very lovely plant has not gained currency.

As you can see, I like it enough to grow lots of it in my rock garden (which is not infinite in space...)

One last glimpse of it: there was a time when pinks and pale blues--all the pastels--were the rage and the norm. At this time, the brasher "jewel-tone" reds, oranges and bright purples have elbowed these gentler pinks out of fashion. Those of us who dwell with the eternal verities don't pay attention to such nonsense: I love all colors including baby pink and rich rose! So what if they aren't "manly" and overstated! Everyone should cultivate their sensitive side (sniff sniff).

There are really dozens more Aethionema (I've grown far more than these--but hesitate to try your patience). They are much of a pinkness, after all...but if I were to be told to grow only one, I think I might pick Aethionema capitatum, pictured above in my rock garden. This was grown from seed of the plant below--check it out!

I took this picture five or ten years ago in Bill Adams wonderful rock garden in Pueblo. This same plant today is a gnarly bonsai (with a trunk bigger than your thumb, and an almost tree-like form and shape--less than a foot tall and not much broader. It blooms for a month or more at the height of spring and in early summer. The seedpods are appealing, and the foliage beautiful blue the year around. Like all aethionemas, it is very drought tolerant. I grow some with no supplemental irrigation. This one stands out!

It is strange indeed that such charming plants that provide so much beauty with so little fuss are still strangers to so many do we change that?


  1. Pretty! Though A. iberideum from Turkey? It surely must be Greek, but the Turks stole them, or at least took credit :-)

  2. Don't get me started, David! Greeks and Turks share more than animosity: we share over 1000 years of history and a great fund of commingled cultural exchange. Greeks and Turks almost always get along extremely well one on one. And the greatest concentration of Aethionema species is likewise shared between the two (although I believe there are more in Turkey, which we also like to think of as Anatolia or Asia Minor...)

  3. I really should grow some of these plants. If you have enough plants (genetic diversity) to get strong seedlings, then I would like some seed.



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