Saxifragas were one of those things that I used to get excited about when perusing my copy of DG Hessayon’s The Houseplant Expert as a kid.*
I’d never thought of them for outdoors, aside from my much-loved (and neglected) Saxifraga x urbium 'Variegata', but when I spotted Saxifraga stolonifera ‘Maroon Beauty’ at the Wrest Park garden show earlier in the year I had one of those “it will be mine!” moments that will be familiar to any plant enthusiast.
It’s a low-ground ground cover plant with fleshy, hairy leaves that likes shady conditions, and the fleshy leaves compare favourably to other foliage plants, heucheras say, for interest. My only concern is hardiness. The woman on the stall – I forget which nursery it was – assured me that hers had bounced back from the harsh winter, resprouting readily in the spring but time will tell.
One of its common names is 'Roving Sailor', because they spread by runners (strictly speaking stoloniferous plantlets, I think): mine’s already made four or five new plants (one is visible in the shot above) from its spot in the side passage with no effort from me, and free plants are always good.
It's a good job that this plant is happy in full shade as my saxifrage is about to be completely covered by the rapidly burgeoning leaves of my soon-to-flower Nicotiana sylvestris - pictured here at half its current size in the bit (not big enough to earn the title of 'border') on the other side of the passage, with Garrya elliptica 'James Roof' and some honeysuckle behind.
I put these in a bit late, really, but they were an impulse buy** having read m'colleague Lia Leendertz’s book The Twilight Garden, in the hope that the scent would mitigate against any potential whiffs emanating from our nearby wheelie bins (they're disguised with a rather stylish wheelie bin cover but that doesn't contain smells).
*Talking to James Wong at Chelsea this year, we discovered a mutual childhood enthusiasm for this book – I’m glad I wasn’t the only one with a square pastime aged 10. James used a lot of plants you’d see in The Houseplant Expert in his 2011 show garden, such as pileas. I’ve asked my mum to root out some photos of me with my plants as a kid, as if you need some proof. Stand by for some seriously embarrassing images ...
**From an ebay seller called seed-feeder who I’d highly recommend. They don’t have anything for sale as I type but the large plugs I bought were very healthy and well packaged, and I am kicking myself for not buying several things from them this summer.