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Monday, February 21, 2011

Alpine Treasures: Dwarf Cushion Saxifrages

A group of Cushion Saxifrages in the winter sun

Dwarf cushion saxifrage species and hybrids (Section Porphyrion) are amazing winter and early spring flowering alpines. These tiny cushions begin to form flower buds in late fall to early winter and, just after the new year, the first in a succession of flowers appear.
Saxifraga 'Maria Luisa' is the first to flower
 In our mild maritime influenced winters, the white flowers of Saxifraga x salmonica ‘Maria Luisa’ can appear before Christmas and are in full bloom from January into February. 
Saxifraga 'Suendermanii' covered with flowers
 The next to flower are the Saxifraga x kellereri hybrids, ‘Suendermanii’ and ‘Kewensis’.   These are striking cushions with large gray-green rosettes that contrast nicely with the bright pink buds and flowers.

Saxifraga 'Madedonica' flowers in mid-spring
 The flowering will continue on into May when a beautiful yellow flowering cushion which came to us under the name Saxifraga ‘Macedonica’ will bloom for several weeks.  Incidentally, we have not been able to verify the name on this cultivar.  This sometimes happens with such a large group with so many hybrids.

Saxifraga 'Walter Irving'
 Dwarf cushion saxifrages have been hybridized for well over 100 years.  Hybrids sometimes reflect the name of the hybridizer as in the cases of S. x boydii ‘William Boyd’ and S. x irvingii ‘Walter Irving’, both named for early British saxifrage hybridizers.

The Sax Shack
 In our rainy winter climate where they are not cocooned and protected from winter wet under snow cover, we grow them out of doors under a modified patio-style cover.  Here they are protected from excessive rain and have excellent air circulation and cold exposure.  They do better when grown in this situation than in the conditions found in our well-ventilated, unheated hoop houses.  
Saxifrages in trough with miniature Mugo Pine 'Short Needle'
 We grow dwarf cushion Saxifrages in very gritty soil and provide partial shade in summer.  They are particularly attractive in alpine troughs where their tiny foliage and dramatic flowers are easy to view and enjoy.
Saxifraga 'Cherry Trees'

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