My favorite plant this week is Saxifraga stolonifera, commonly known as the strawberry saxifrage, strawberry geranium, strawberry begonia, or creeping saxifrage. My first introduction to this plant was as an indoor plant for hanging baskets. I saw it pictured in our collection of houseplant books (mostly from the 1970's) and sometime later saw it for the first time in person at a hardware store with a small collection of houseplants for sale. By the time I found it in the hardware store, I had learned that it was, in fact, hardy outdoors in the PNW and was keen on trying it in my garden. So I took one home and put it in our first rhododendron border, the only location at the time that had the preferred conditions for this lover of shade and fairly consistent moisture. This was about a year or two before the consecutive and harsh winters of 2008 and 2009.
Prior to these winters this saxifrage grew large, lush leaves and spread quickly, as if it were still indoors. Then came those hard winters and I thought I had lost it, the patch having dwindled down to a handful of sickly plantlets. Indeed, at one point all I could find was one seemingly rotted crown remaining, but I needn't have worried. Somewhere under the moss and tree needles, some vestige of life remained. Slowly, at first, the saxifrage returned. It eventually gained strength and has thrived since, creating a large patch under the rhododendrons and successfully competing with (and making a lovely combination with) the nearby Hakonechloa macra 'All Gold'. Unlike the prevailing larger plantlets that grew prior to those hard winters, the form that has since spread is slightly smaller, thicker leaved, and more reliably evergreen, though hard winters can still kill off the leaves. It seems this plant needed some harsh treatment to make it realize it was growing outdoors rather than enjoying a cushy location in some conservatory.
|Not a thick groundcover, but enough to suppress a few weeds, Saxifraga stolonifera allows a few of the native Viola sempervirens to weave into its midst.|
|Like tiny insects or fairies, the flowers of Saxifraga stolonifera sparkle in the shade next to 'All Gold' Japanese forest grass, making highlights against the darker foliage in the background.|
Missouri Botanical Garden website):
- USDA hardiness zones 6-9
- Leaves lie mostly flat to the ground, 2-3 inches high. Flower stems rise .5-1.5 feet tall
- Spreads indefinitely by stolons as long as long as the stolons find suitable conditions
- Prefers part to full shade with regular water and an organically-rich soil
- Not bothered by slugs or deer (I think it's too low to the ground for my lazy deer to bother with)
|Saxifraga stolonifera makes a great groundcover around plants like primroses. It is dense enough to suppress some weeds, but not so dense as to choke the primroses.|
|The small, airy flowers sparkle from a distance, but are fascinating and intricate upon close inspection, with tiny red freckles on the upper petals and stamens arching out from the yellow stigma. The larger lower petals look like down-swept wings.|