The Latin word saxifraga means literally “stone-breaker”, from Latin saxum (“rock” or “stone”) + frangere (“to break”). Pliny the Elder thought the plant was named like this because at the time it was given to dissolve gallstones (another example of the Doctrine of Signatures). Even so, Saxifraga is a very good name for a plant growing in rock crevices.
Some of my regular readers might have noticed my penchant for mountains, and of course, everything that grows on them. The seed collections from the Carpathian Mts. we did last summer, my limited garden space (at some point there is no other way to expand but UP), and the fact that every year I plan to do it and it never happens, all combined together and I finally made it to the only nursery specialized in alpine plants from Ontario: Wrightman Alpines .
It is a small size operation (mail-order) but growing a vast array of alpine plants from all over the world. On their website, besides perusing the catalogue, with some species in very short supply, you can watch a few interesting videos about building clay crevice gardens, planting tufa and much more. Alas, this cold month of March made it that many species were behind their usual growth, but to put things into balance, the Saxifrages were in flower. Skilfully grown in small tufa pieces by Harvey Wrightman, they were looking like miniatural rock gardens in themselves.
The genus Saxifraga is quite large, comprising a wide range of mostly perennial plants, many of which are alpines. According to the Saxifraga Society there are some 480 known species and countless garden hybrids. The sections that are of garden interest are: the ‘mossies’ (section Saxifraga), the ‘silvers (section Ligulatae) and the Kabschia and Engleria subsections (of section Porphyrion).
Now, if I made you think I know what I’m talking about, you are wrong (in this case). When I’ll be done with the many other genera I’m working on, I’ll get to the Saxifraga too, but that might be a long time from now. Unless you really need a botanical challenge in your life, I suggest that you do like me: try to have fun growing a few of them in your rock garden.
And of course, I came home with my ‘Romeo’ (and a carload of tufa stones), hope our romance will last a bit longer…
For the connoisseurs, I cannot end without showing a real alpine gem: Dionysia tapetoides – a cliff-dweller, native from Afghanistan, hard to grow and equally hard to find.