I have always liked ajuga as garden plants. They are (almost) evergreen, make a fast ground cover and are really useful as a basket and pot plants where they produce long stems that trail over the edge. The spikes of small blue flowers are useful for bees and look attractive in spring and early summer. Of course it is a native too (to NW Europe) so that pleases everyone. There are numerous cultivars and I have grown them, on and off for decades. ‘Multicolor’ was the first I grew, with dark bronze leaves spotted with yellow and pink. It sounds unpleasant and it really is, but I liked it. ‘Burgundy Glow’ is the jewel in the ajuga crown with delightfully pink variegated leaves that are just right with the blue flowers. It is just as bright as the most vulgar heuchera and is just lovely. In recent years the dark ‘Catlin’s Giant’ has become the dominant variety along with the small-leaved ‘Chocolate Chip’.
A major disadvantage of them all is that they suffer in drought and can become white from mildew. As soon as autumn rains moisten the soil they have a growth spurt and recover but they can look nasty in summer. But, as I mentioned yesterday, it is not the plant but the gardener that is at fault – don’t plant ajuga in full sun and in droughty soil. And like most ground cover plants that rapidly race across the soil, ajuga can die out in the centre. You can alleviate this, to some extent, with an annual mulch of fine compost to encourage new roots and growth.
It is great news that someone has done some work with ajugas and there is now a whole new range of them, sold under the banner of Feathered Friends (R). I am not quite sure why, but it makes some sense when the individual varieties have ‘bird’ names. I am not sure which are available where but they are being sold in the USA and in Europe. They have been bred in The Netherlands by Garden Solutions who brought you Chick Charms (R) sempervivums and Suns Sparkler (R) sedums. So far, I have found only one for sale so I snapped up my ‘Fancy Finch’ as soon as I saw it. *
‘Fancy Finch’ has leaves that has leaves in purple, gold and orange, according to season and light – though mine is quite green, but then it is still in its pot. The leaves are small and it seems vigorous, but my plant is too young to assess. I do like it, but I want some of the others even more.
*I am playing fast and loose with the names here because these are selling names and should not have ‘ ‘ around them and they are cultivars and not varieties of course. But, unlike roses, I am sure these selling names are international.
Others in the series are:
‘Cordial Canary’ with bright yellow leaves – the one I really want
‘Fierce Falcon’ with large, purple leaves – maybe like ‘Black Scallop’
‘Noble Nightingale’ with narrow, dark foliage
‘Parrot Paradise’ with wavy leaves in orange and gold
‘Petite Parakeet’ with narrow, small leaves of orange
‘Pleasant Pheasant’ with copper and gold foliage – the newest to be released
‘Tropical Toucan’ with large leaves of lemon and lime.
All have blue flowers. I think I would have chosen better names – I am not sure how a canary can be cordial, unless steeped in sugar syrup! And I am not sure how noble a nightingale can be.
*I bought my plant at Springmount Garden Centre, Ballycanew, Wexford.