Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

Purple-leaved Spinach Bugleweed

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Two snows into Winter, and this bizarre Ajuga still hasn't flinched.  Crinkly purple foliage is particularly evergreen.  Who knew?  This is 'Metallica Crispa', with shiny and spinach-like leaves that look as much like cast-off wads of aluminum foil—if it came in burgundy, true.

 

What neither spinach nor aluminum foil have are these tiny white bristles.  Too small to appreciate without magnification, but now that you've seen them, you'll think of yet another metaphor for the leaves.  Not vegetable, not mineral, either.  Animal:  'Metallica Crispa' looks like elephant hide—if they came in burgundy, true.

 

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However you describe it, this is one weird little plant.  It will gradually spread into a patch of groundcover.  I'll divide every other Spring to hurry the colony size along.

 

 

Here's how to grow this delightfully "What is it?" perennial:

 

Latin Name

Ajuga pyramidalis 'Metallica Crispa Purpurea'

Common Name

Purple-leaf Spinach Bugleweed

Family

Lamiaceae, the Mint family.

What kind of plant is it?

Evergreen perennial.

Hardiness

Zones 4 - 9.

Habit

Clump forming, with short runners.  Eventually forms tight groundcovering colonies that continue to enlarge—slowly.  Its congested and "self-regarding" habit are the antithesis of Ajuga reptans and cultivars, which be rampant thugs that leap, seed, and weave outward in all directions.

Rate of Growth

Slow but steady. 

Size in ten years

In bloom, to six inches high; only an inch or two high when just in leaf.  Lateral spread is slow but steady; perhaps to a scant three feet across in a decade.

Texture

Metallic, indeed.  Striking and artificial—so much so that the urge is irresistible to pat it, and test if it's truly alive.

Grown for

its foliage.  The leaves are shiny, scrunched, and (with enough sun), deep purple, with the glint and crinkle of carefully-placed crumples of aluminum foil—if only it came in burgundy.

 

its flowers.  Short vertical spikes of blue flowers that coordinate well with the foliage.  They're lovely, but only a passing show; the foliage is this cultivar's real draw. 

 

its year-round presence.  In Zone 7 and warmer, 'Metallica Crispa

Purpurea' is quite evergreen; in Zone 6 and colder it is still impressively persistent throughout the cold months. 

Flowering season

Mid-Spring:  Mid-May here in Rhode Island.

Color combinations

'Metallica Crispa Purpurea' is versatile, thanks to its striking foliar as well as floral colors.  The burgundy foliage goes with any colors, be they hot or cool, saturated or pastel. 

 

The blue flowers come at the height of Spring, and are easy as well as exciting with the prevalent yellows, pinks, and whites of the season.  The flowers would even work with oranges and reds of tulips and azaleas, but that would be a bit strident for my taste.

Partner Plants

'Metallica Crispa Purpurea' is so low, dense, and carpeting that, short of moss, it must always play the groundcover to partner plants, or be sited right at the front of any combination.  And although it grows well in part shade, it's not as colorful as when sited in a brighter exposure; its maximum performance isn't realized when used as a groundcover beneath deciduous shrubs. 

 

This is a showy perennial, then, that needs as well as deserves to be sited right at the footlights, with partner plants off to the side or at the back.  Shorter grasses whose foliage is vertical instead of sprawling would be a sharp and therefore stimulating contrast.  If they have bright foliage, whether variegated or uniformly-hued, even better.  Acorus gramineus 'Aureus' has stiff leaf blades with comparatively little outward arch; it thrives in rich soil, and is hardy to Zone 6 when that soil is also well-drained.  

 

Ferns could provide the ultimate in textural contrast, but are usually a guarantee of some fussy maintenance.  If they don't have fronds that sprawl outward from the clump, shading (and therefore greening-up) any 'Metallica Crispa Purpurea' in reach, the clump itself tends to spead by rhizomes, outcompeting the Ajuga.  Vertically-fronded clumpers are the ones to try.  Consider starting with ostrich fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris; or Royal fern, Osmunda regalis, especially in its purple-stemmed cultivar, 'Purpurascens'. 

 

There are enough plants whose foliage is similarly artificial in coloring to that of 'Metallica Crispa Purpurea' that you could have a small bed dedicated to them.  If you can keep enough distance between the two, you could "back-plant" 'Metallica Crispa Purpurea' with painted ferns, Athyrium niponicum var. pictum.  Its  grey-and-burgundy color always seems counter-intuitive:  Aren't ferns always green?  Add some clumps of black mondo grass, Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens'; it's foliage isn't literally black, but it is as deep as the skin of any eggplant.  Next, a clump of 'Conglomerata Erecta' ivy, whose burgundy stems harmonize as well with the Ajuga foliage as its white-veined leaves contrast with it.  And during the hot months, add a colony of one of the Thai caladium hybrids, which tend toward shiny leaves and deep as well as surreal coloring.  And for a splash of silver?  A clump of Liriope 'Silver Dragon'.         

 

If you're able to establish a large enough colony of 'Metallica Crispa Purpurea', you can bring larger horticulture close enough for partnership.  Allow just one branch of gold-leaved Corylopsis spicata 'Aurea' to grow overhead.  It would provide only dappled shade: not enough to dull the burgundy of the Ajuga leaves.  You could even leapfrog directly from groundcover to tree by, say, backing a large Ajuga colony with an upright Japanese maple.  Choose one of the cultivars whose green foliage is finely-dissected.  If the maple were to the north and east, afternoon sun could still keep 'Metallica Crispa Purpurea' metallic as well as crisp.  Acer japonicum 'Green Cascade' is broadly pendulous; as with the Corylopsis, you could allow just one limb to swoop over the Ajuga, casting only light shade.

Where to use it in your garden

At the front of beds and planting combinations.  Provide afternoon shade if the sun is torrid or if it's difficult to keep the soil moist.  'Metallica Crispa Purpurea' is dense enough and solid enough that it could "grout" stones of walkways or terraces.  See "How to handle it: Another option—or two?" below.

Culture

Part shade; more sun—even full sun—if the soil is rich and moisture-retentive.  The color is darkest with more sun.

How to handle it:  The Basics

'Metallica Crispa Purpurea' is unusually self-reliant.  Plant it in good soil, as many clumps as you can beg or buy, and as close together as you can.  Keep them weeded so they aren't slowed (either by the shade that weeds might provide, or by their root competition) in their formation of a groundcovering patch.  If you get around to it, clip off the spent flower stalks later in May.  If you need more—and who doesn't?—divide your colony each Spring. 

How to handle it: Another option—or two?

'Metallica Crispa Purpurea' is startling when growing between paving stones.  So that its roots can access the water they need, the stones need to be set directly into soil, not, as would be more typical, into sand.  Allow a good two inches between the stones, too.  Choose locations that are not baked by afternoon sun; morning sun is best. 

 

Such an exceptional "grout" isn't appropriate for pathways that get traffic day-in/day-out.  You'd trip over the Ajuga or smash it, or both.  Choose the perimeter of heavily-trafficked stones, or—even better—create a small and secret terrace just to work 'Metallica Crispa Purpurea' into it.  Make the terrace just big enough for a French-park folding chair and tiny cafe table.  You'll only use it when you're in the mood for stepping carefully from stone to stone, and never on a crack.   

Quirks or special cases

'Metallica Crispa Purpurea' would be marvelous as a groundcover around dwarf conifers, which are usually tight buns and mounds that don't cast much shade.  In turn, this Ajuga cultivar has very short runners, so it's not likely to climb up into the miniature shrubs and trees.

Downsides

Ajuga is not the perennial for sweltering climates, where it can rot out.  Give it better drainage as well as air circulation if your Summers are particularly heavy.  On the other hand, Ajuga is extremely hardy, so gardeners in cold climates can enjoy its widest possibilities. 

Variants

Ajuga pyramidalis, the straight species, is green-leaved and large.  It sends out runners, but is still more of a clumper than Ajuga reptans and its cultivars.  New cultivars of A. reptans seem to appear annually; as long as you can keep them in control, they provide unique textural and coloristic opportunities.  'Chocolate Chip' has tiny purple leaves.  The rosettes of 'Caitlin's Giant' can be a foot across.  'Silver Fox' has creamy leaves edged in green; 'Silver Queen' is the reverse.  'Pink Surprise' has pink flowers and bronze foliage.  There are six or eight more, too.

'Chocolate Chip' and 'Caitlin's Giant' are on my list for 2012.

Availability

On-line and at retailers.

Propagation

By division at almost any season.  I received my starter clumps as bare-root transplants at the height of Summer, and they didn't flag a moment.

Native habitat

Ajuga pyramidalis is native to Europe.

 

 
 
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