Monday, 27 March 2017

Let's hear it for Aubretia

Let me make it clear straight away that the plant we call Aubretia is really Aubrieta, but to the gardener that is of little importance. It is a plant we tend to take for granted yet it surely ought to come in the top ten of species for, well, any number of reasons: it is colourful, with a number of purple shades available; it is undemanding, often growing in what appear to be inhospitable situations on sun-baked walls and so on; it is easy to propagate by seed or simply by removing and replanting a suitable shoot, and it is a good insect plant - my plants have received many visits from bees and butterflies already this year.  Unlike its close relatives, Wallflowers, it lacks fragrance, but as the man said, 'You can't have everything; where would you put it?'
Aubretia helps to hide concrete edging in our front garden.
Stefen Hill, Daventry, 26 March, 2017

Even a cursory glance at the flowers shows that it is a member of the Cabbage Family, Brassicaceae. The four-petalled flowers have a cruciform shape and in older books the Brassicaceae is referred to as the Cruciferae - the cross-bearers. Our garden plant is Aubrieta deltoidea but there are several other species - between 12 and 16 - and it is likely that some cultivated strains have another of these species somewhere in their make up. The genus commemorates a French artist, Claude Aubriet, who tended to specialise in painting flowers. The Aubretia we all know is a native of Greece and other south-east European countries but is very widely naturalised in many parts of the world. It is not uncommon as a garden escape and in Britain there are hundreds of records, usually near to gardens or on waste tips, and it seems particularly frequent in Devon and Somerset.
A close-up shows the nectar guides, leading insects to their reward.
There are reddish-purple forms to choose from and in recent years a white variety has become available but I have no intention of growing it; there are plenty of white-flowered crucifers for the rock garden such as the popular Arabis caucasica, but none that I know to compare with the wonderful lilac-blue of our Aubretia.
Aubrieta deltoidea and Arabis caucasica form a popular combination in
a Stafford garden. 27 March, 2017

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