Tuesday, July 8, 2014

London Pride and other saxifrages


When I think of rockfoils, the genus Saxifraga, I think of the small plants, either the encrusted varieties or of the mossy saxifrages, but not of the relatively big London Pride. Yet, London Pride (Saxifraga × urbium) is the saxifrage that grows best for us. Ours is a variegated variety (Saxifraga×urbium 'Aureopunctata'). It has been growing beautifully here for many years.

Variegated London Pride at the base of a low retaining wall

Variegated London Pride


It is an undemanding plant that grows in part shade. In fact, ours is in full sun for most of the day, but the plant does not seem to resent it. Like many other plants in this garden, the clump is literally squeezed between a rock and a hard place (a low stone wall). Its location might explain why it puts up with much sun. The soil likely stays humid under the rock where there is no root competition. The clump increases a bit each year, but it is certainly not rampant. The foliage looks good all year round. The small white flowers (which do look like the flowers of other saxifrages) are an added bonus, especially since  they stay attractive for at least a whole month.

Variegated London Pride
Close-up of the bloom


Another "big" saxifrage we grow is "Mother-of-a-thousand" or "Strawberry Begonia" (Saxifraga stolonifera), which I first knew as a houseplant when I was a student. The variety we have seems to be mostly green, contrary to the type which has white lines on the leaves (these seem to be two rather different varieties, does anyone know?). Smaller than London Pride, it is similarly unfussy. It looks best weaving its way among other small plants and rocks. Our patch is still too small to do that, but already looks quite attractive.

Strawberry Begonia


We also have encrusted saxifrages (the 'real' saxifrages), but we find it difficult to find the right spot for them. They either get too much sun and get burned like these:

Encrusted saxifrage grown in too much sun


or they do not get enough sun and start "languishing", getting thinner and thinner, until they disappear, like these:

Encrusted saxifrage grown in too much shade


Eventually we might find a place they like. As for mossy saxifrages, we have had a few over the years, but they do not do well. They are described as "accommodating", "easy" and "thriving in a wide range of soils". I expect we are too dry for them. I went out to take a picture of our last remaining one, and then realized that we no longer have any. The last one has left, hopefully, for a wetter world!

16 comments:

  1. Really interesting post on the Saxifrages. Strangely perhaps, given your conditions as I understand them Alain, I would have expected the encrusted saxifrages to have performed the best with you, maybe as scree plants they are missing a little more moisture and nutrient. Saxifraga × urbium is a plant of the 1950's here where it seemed to be in everyone's garden, probably because it was tolerant to just about everything that was thrown at it. The top of my list is one I have grown Saxifraga longifolia 'Tumbling Waters' really spectacular in the right conditions. I also find the more herbaceous types such as Saxifraga fortunei 'Rokujo' quite interesting.

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    1. I think my failure with encrusted saxifrage has to do with were I have grown them. I put some in full sun and some in shade. In full sun here they bloom but tend to cook. In shade they do not have enough light. I will have to find a spot with dapple shade.
      I realize that no one in England is proud of London Pride, excuse the pun. Here it is seen as a rather exotic plant. Actually, I don't remember ever seeing it more than once or twice in a garden, even if I have often read about it.

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  2. I love it when you all use all those big words! I think these are succulents, maybe like hen and chicks. They seem to love me, probably because my garden is barely reclaimed backfill.

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  3. They are not as thick-leaved as hens & chicks but you are right, they are a kind of succulent.

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  4. Saxifrages are a favourite of mine, but I don't find them easy to grow. Drainage seems to be a key factor in their success. They also seem to like a fair bit of moisture. At home in Nova Scotia, where spring rainfall is plentiful, they seem to grow like weeds.

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    1. I expect you and Rick are right and lack of moisture is the reason the encrusted saxifrages are not easy here.

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  5. Gosh, I had a different experience with the "regular" London Pride--in my shady Seattle-area garden it grew at an alarming rate. The new runners would push out and expand the clump by nearly a foot or so each time. I had to edge it back with shears and a shovel. And, while I liked the foliage, the spent bloom stalks bothered me and it was quite a project to remove those. Now, I have quite a bit of the dwarf London Pride (primuloides, I think) and I really like it. It's dense and tidy and , while it spreads, it does so much more slowly with its short little offsets. It does like quite a bit of moisture and doesn't handle sun very well.

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    1. Thank you for your visit.
      That is indeed quite a different experience! Here, even if they have done well, they were put in in 2010 and the clump has only tripled in size in these 4 years (of course the fact that it is surrounded by stone might help keep them under control).
      It is always surprising to see how plants behave very differently in various gardens.

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  6. I have London Pride in the garden here, it has increased but not very much. Saxifrage stolonifera on the other hand, loves it here and has taken off in shady areas. I use it for ground cover in the shade and the flowers look just like butterflies hovering in dark corners, I think it likes all our rain!

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    1. I hope mine takes off. I was given it by a friend this spring. In her garden it looks lovely running between stones in her rock garden. The stones looked like island in a sea of waxy leaves.

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  7. I have a pretty little Saxifrage from the Pyrennes. It has deeply toothed, apple green leaves which look as if they have been pinked with pinking shears. The starry flowers are similar to those of London Pride. My favourite though has to be Saxifrage stolonoifera ' Tumbling Waters' . The flowers are spectacular but unfortunately it seems to die after flowering.
    I think London Pride is really pretty although you see it a lot here.

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  8. Sorry I forgot to say what my little Sagifrage is called. It is Saxifraga ' Dentata'.

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    1. I will have to keep an eye open for this and for Tumbling Waters since both you and Rick above recommend it.

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  9. Good post. This is a plant I have no experience with.

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  10. Hi Alain, I really like the variegated version you have, we have a patio wall that I am reclaiming from rampant ivy and it will need planting out, saxifrages and other alpines seem to be the ideal candidates, but I have no experience of growing them. This info is very useful.

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    1. Glad you can use the info. I like London Pride a lot - no disease, blooms a very long time, not invasive. I suppose it is so good you can find it boring!

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