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Tough little stalwarts bring carpet of colour

COMING into flower nicely these days, after a much slower start than usual, three of the stalwarts of spring are beginning to colour up.

The three plants are all carpeting kinds, named aubrieta, arabis and yellow alyssum, all related, part of the cabbage family.

Aubrieta is the best known of the three and very common in gardens. It is a remarkably tough little plant that can withstand dry conditions, winter wet and severe cold and wind.

It thrives in open rocky places and it can grow in a crack in a wall or paving, and often self-sows in such places, decorating old walls with swags of purple or blue-violet flowers.

Quite a variation of shades of purple, from light violet-blue to deep wine-red purple, are produced. It is very effective to have several different shades of purple in the same area. The plants cross-breed easily and seedlings often appear with shades of their own.

Arabis (shown) is also a mountain native, hardy and well capable of surviving tough conditions, though perhaps not quite as tough as aubrieta. It has a tendency to grow a bit taller, especially in good soil. The flowers can be white or pink, and some forms have deep-pink flowers, always nicely set off by pale grey-green foliage. Any of the colours will combine very well with the varied colours of aubrieta.

The yellow alyssum, now correctly called aurinia, has much smaller flowers that the other two, but they are carried in larger numbers in tight little clusters. The plant itself is tighter in its structure than the others but it can spread out nicely. The colour is a really bright spring yellow. It looks great in contrast with the purple or white of the aubrieta and arabis. It too is a mountain plant from southern European mountains and it is hardy.

Each of these three plants is good at trailing down a bank or wall, making a broad draping cushion of leaves and flowers. Aurinia is a bit more upright and bushy than the others, but this slight variation actually adds to the charm of these plants when they are used together.

An earthen bank, low retaining wall or a big rock garden are the ideal places for these plants as they enjoy good drainage. They could also be used as edging along the front of a bed or border where it meets a path or paved area.

Buy the plants now in flower, choosing the colours you prefer.

Irish Independent