I have a confession; I like hard working plants. Of course I like exotic plants, tender plants and special plants too but really the plants I like best are the ones you can plant, water and let them get on with it. I especially like them if they are low maintenance (which gives me more time to cosset the tender plants I mentioned above) but most of all I admire the get-on-with-it attitude plants. These are the plants that gladden your heart when you see them, that make you think ‘I must get some more of that’ and the ones that seed, flower and look after themselves pretty much on their own. I’m pragmatic in my garden, if something is not working I try it somewhere else or bin it. Life, in my view, is too short for poor performing plants and don’t get me started on staking, feeding and deadheading. Nope. I want a garden that is crisp, performing on minimum effort. My radar therefore is always on for good plants to add to my garden.
Pachypragma macrophyllum is a hero plant, guts of steel, it happily grows in dry soil, has evergreen foliage, delivers pure white flowers in March and April for up to eight weeks, self seeds gently, does not need much tidy up. A paragon of virtue, a dream plant. What’s the catch I hear you ask? Well, there is none. I have used this plant for years and I cannot have too much of it. Every seedling I find is grown on, placed and celebrated.
When I go around other gardens on spring visits I find myself looking for it. Where is it? Why have they not got it? Its absence is noted. This is a plant that works beautifully with Tulips, looks great on its own, fits right in with epimediums and all those nice spring time players. Its performance with Hellebores is top rate, providing a billowing white backdrop to the nodding heads.
You have probably seen this plant in nurseries, passed it by, blind to what it can do. In a pot on a nursery bench it looks awful; weak, straggly growth, top heavy, an ugly duckling. But, take that plant and get it into your garden and within weeks it will be a fresh clump of evergreen leaves and the following February it will be ready to do its thing. It starts sending out clean, white flowers which it continues right through April. Then, it sets generous seed and goes back to being a neat, good natured member of the garden. Magic.
One of the reasons that Pachyphragma is so useful is that in its homeland in Iran and Turkey it grows in woodland where, in the summer it will be very dry, it has evolved therefore to sail through these conditions and make the most of early spring moisture.
In my garden this plant grows to about 40 cm tall and spreads slowly with creeping stolons. For the keen eyed you may notice that it is from the Brassica family and secondly if you break a piece of root is resembles Wasabi root the Japanese condiment used with sushi to which it is related.
Given the superlatives above my advice therefore is, if you find this plant then make sure to stock up. It will become a stalwart of your spring garden and an unsung hero of your garden planting structure throughout all other seasons. It’s not exotic, not cool, not remotely hard to grow but for me it’s a must have for every good garden.