They’re tiny plants from a titanic family and simply ooze ‘sax’ appeal

SAXIFRAGES – like snowdrops and hardy cyclamen – enjoy a strong cult following right across our planet.

And right from the start, I make no apologies for plugging one of the most masterly written works exploring one specific genus.

Malcolm McGregor’s 2008 composition, entitled simply Saxifrages and published by Timber Press, remains – to my mind – the definitive guide supreme to the 2,000 species, hybrids and varieties of these most engaging alpines.

They are also a clear favourite of Rob and Jackie Potterton and team whose Potterton’s Alpine & Plant Catalogue 2019 is hot off the presses.

The family business, based in Nettleton, Lincolnshire, lists just over 100 saxifrages – from Ala Martin to Zlata Praha, no less – in colours that span the entire spectrum except for pure blue. White, yellow, peach, buff, salmon, orange, red, mauve, purple and pink are all in the sax palette, often as mixes and with petals, nectary, ring and stamens each having the possibility of being a different colour.

Saxifraga Jan Preisler

Result – a myriad of delightful combinations resembling – as author McGregor points out wistfully – the fondants from a Parisian patissier.

Saxifrages are generally slow-growing, long-lived plants that form hard mounds with dainty, short-stemmed, colourful blooms, often from March right through to autumn, though springtime is their  prime season to shine.

Their needs: Well-drained soil, sunlight, raised bed, trough, scree or – with a watchful eye – in the garden surrounded by plenty of grit, both because they like the gritty stuff and to deter the slug armies.

I suspect saxifrages are seen in many UK gardens, often bought because they hold so much appeal and not necessarily because the gardener is a collector or connoisseur.

No matter. Saxifrages are superb plants, found in the wild from Mexico to Alaska, from every US state to the Andes and Patagonia in the deep south. Not forgetting the Himalayas, India, Turkey, Austria, Slovenia, France, Italy, Spain and Morocco. Oh, and even Greenland.

I wasn’t surprised to read that Malcolm McGregor has visited every one of these nations and locations on plant-hunting expeditions.

I grow Southside Seedling – white flowers subtly marked with a cluster of small dark red spots – and a couple of mossy saxes, as well as bagging a pretty pink unnamed plant from Homeleigh Garden Centre, near Launceston, today.

London Pride – Saxifraga urbicum – is here, there and everywhere with its pink stars atop tall, slender stems and slightly fleshy leaves. But don’t stop at these. Your choice is vast!

Pottertons pages are filled with a wonderful array of alpines and conventional perennials – randomly aubrieta, bessera, cassiope, daphne, dodecatheon, erodium, iris, lewisia, peony, penstemon, primula, sedum, trillium, zephyranthes and loads more.

⏩⏩➡» Call up or phone 01472 851714 for the alpine and the new dwarf bulb catalogue.

⏩⏩➡» Sax-sational! Top – the salmon Jan Preisler; below, clockwise from top – Allendale Bamby; my purchase today; the Potterton’s catalogue; Anna and Southside Seedling.


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