March 28, 2011

Sax in the City part 2

Saxifrages, the high alpine encrusted ones found on the worlds highest mountain peaks are addictive, and I love to grow many that are planted in limestone rock and tufa rock, and all in alpine troughs that are planted all over our garden. The silver Saxifrage is a noble alpine plant, a true alpine that is one of those plants known as a 'bun'. The hard, dense, limestone encrusted rosettes that can survive the roughest mountain goat hoove and glacier like snow. This past winter had our troughs under a glacier of thier own ( see pics from January), and now that the snow has melted, they are none for the worse. Soon, they will bloom and be covered in bright delicate blossoms.

 There are many named selections of Silver Sax's as well as many species but they are not easy to find. One must either mail order them from a handful of alpine plant nurseries ( mine are from Wrightman Alpines) or, one can start them from cuttings that you can take from a friends' plant. I plant my cutting in holes that are drilled into Tufa rock, a limestone rock which is porous, and also hard to find, but worth searching for at alpine nurseries, for it is the only rock that these planted will grow in. You might try these alpined in soil or a gravelly mix, but between you and me, there is really only one way to grow the giant specimens like these, and that is to root your own plants directly into Tufa rock. Once established, they are rather care free.
A silver saxifraga growing in a trough. I still need to clean up the troughs, use tweezers to remove pine and spruce needles, and then spread a new layer of granite chips, but beyond that, there is little care.

These tiny rosettes are smaller than a blueberry, but en masse, they form an dense bun that will be covered in flowers in a few weeks. The Saxifrages sold by Harvey Wrightman are all grown in little tufa rocks, so even if you can't find some, he can sell you one via the mail, that you can pop right into a trough. Even better, try one of his alpine rocks, where three or more plants are planted in a much larger rock.

Not a saxifrage, this is tight bun that also grows at high elevations. Arenaria tetraquetra ssp. granatensis is another 'bun' plant that is a bit more challenging to grow but one that is easier when grown in rocky troughs or in crevice gardens. It looked completely dead a few weeks ago, and I almost yanked it, but upon closer inspection, you can see it starting to green up. Yay.
(For a good laugh, check out this video of a kid planting his own trough at 6 years old, after watching J. Halda plant one) here.

Speaking of alpine meadows, this Pulsatilla or Pasque Flower is a favorite floral image often seen on alpine plant calendars and placemats at pancake houses. Since it is nearly Easter, I thought that I should share what it looks like as it emerges - like a baby chick, all fuzzy and safe in its 'nest' of old foliage from last year. If you don't know this plant, you will once you see it in bloom, but sometimes it nice to see what it looks like before the money shot. If you are going to try alpines, start with this one, they are easy, and they become larger every year, just like a Hellebore does. This is a plant where the seed pod is a nice as the flower is, but even the emerging bud is interesting.


  1. Great article! Thanks! I love the photos of your sax.

  2. Very informative! I've often heard mention of saxifrage, but have never seen what the plants look like or read about how they grow. I'm going to be looking into these now!

    Great post and beautiful photos!

  3. I'm starting some different pasque flowers from seed ... can't wait to see them grow!


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