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Saxifraga Longifolia - Hardy Perennial

Author: John Wood

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Saxifraga Longifolia Described.

Saxifraga Longifolia - Long-leaved Saxifrage; Queen of Saxifrages; Nat. Ord. Saxifragaceæ.

Numerous and beautiful as are the species and varieties of this genus, this is the most admired of them all, from which fact it derives its proud name of "Queen." It is of recent introduction; habitat, the Pyrenees; but though of alpine origin, it thrives in lower, I may say the lowest, situations even in our wet climate. As will be seen by the illustration, it belongs to the rosette section, and may indeed be said, for size and symmetry, to head the list. There are many forms of it, differing more or less in shape of leaves, colour, habit, and size of rosette. The original or reputed type is but an indifferent form compared with the one now generally accepted as the representative of the species. So readily do the various Saxifrages become crossed, that it is hard to distinguish them; and when a distinct form is evolved the question occurs, What constitutes or entitles it to specific honours? Surely the form of which we are speaking must be fully entitled to a name all its own, as it is not possible to find another Saxifrage that can so widely contrast with the whole genus.

It may be as well, in a few words, to refer to one or two varieties; and it shall only be from an amateur's point of view, whose estimate of their worth or importance is based entirely on their ornamental qualities under cultivation. Such varieties, as far as I know, have not had any name given them, descriptive or otherwise, and I for one have no desire to see any, as the genus is already overloaded with names.

There is, first, a form whose main distinction is its dark olive-green leaves; the ends are rather inclined to be spathulate, they are long, narrow, and arch well, rather nearer the centre of the rosette; this causes the end of the outer circle of leaves to come flat on the ground. The whole specimen has a sombre appearance compared with the more silvery kinds. The second form has broader leaves, is more distinctly toothed and spotted; as a consequence of their width, the leaves are fewer, and though all the varieties are very formal, this is the most so. When by the side of what we may term the true form, which has sometimes vera added to its name, this one has a plain and somewhat "dumpy" appearance, and frequently the tips of the leaves curl back, which further detracts from its ornamental quality. A third form has small rosettes, pale green foliage, indistinct silvery dots, and, worse than all, the habit of throwing out a progeny of young growths all round the collar, furnishing itself as with a ruff, when the parent rosette turns to a yellowish-green. Of all the forms this is the most constant bloomer. The favourite variety, to which an engraving can do but scant justice, is superior to the above kinds in all its parts. Its blooming period is in early summer, but specimens often grow in size and beauty for three or five years without producing flowers. The foliage is the more admired feature, and is at its greatest beauty in December.

The flowers are borne in handsome panicles, in the style of those of S. pyramidalis, which are about 18in. high. The blossom is of the kind common to this section. The leaves are long, narrow, toothed bluntly, and spotted with silvery dots; the whole leaf is greyish; the habit is rigid and of even arrangement; the rosettes are of all sizes, from 2in. to 10in. in diameter. At 3in. to 6in. they are attractive, and as they grow larger, they become conspicuous in their beauty. It is not desirable to have them flower, inasmuch as the rosettes are then destroyed, though the plants do not die. Of course, if a specimen "shows bloom" it cannot be helped, but rather than lose a season's produce of young stock I would nip out the "lead," and so cause offsets to be produced instead of flowers.

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Saxifraga Longifolia

In the rock garden this is one of the most telling subjects that can be introduced; not only does it love to have its roots amongst the stones, but it is a form which harmonises and yet contrasts finely with such shapeless material, and, further, relieves the sameness of verdure of other plants in a more than ordinary degree. It will grow in borders or beds, but looks nowhere so well as on rockwork. True, its uses are limited, but then they are exceedingly effective. I have grown this subject in almost every kind of soil and compost, and it has done well in most; stiff clay-like loam appears too cold or wet for it; on the other hand, a sandy loam, mixed with leaf soil, grows it finely; perfect drainage is the desideratum, in no matter what position it is planted. It may be increased in various ways—1st, By seeds, which may be bought, as it is carefully harvested abroad; 2nd, from offsets, as already stated; and, 3rd, from offsets produced by cutting out the leaves in two or more parts, so as to let the light in at the collar. This method may seem heartless, and it certainly spoils the specimen; it is a mode to be followed only where there are spare old plants and young stock is needed.

Flowering period, June and July.

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