What a difference one letter makes – or how two plants became one!

AND to think I was certain I’d spotted a typographical error in the plant catalogue.

There it was – Mukdenia Karasuba and, next plant down the page, Mukgenia Nova Flame. Which was correct, the “d” or the “g”.

Well, you can’t blame me for wondering . . . surely?

So now it’s confession time. Firstly I’d not heard of either of these shade-loving hardy perennials and, secondly, both spellings were spot-on and accurate  in Hartside Nursery’s latest booklet.

The reason for this “name game,” as horticultural boffins will recognise, is that one of them is a rare blend of two separate genera.

In this case, Mukgenia is a cross between Mukdenia and Bergenia, the well-known, spring-flowering  Elephant’s Ears.

I gather it’s the first time these two genera have been used in this manner. A nurseryman from Oregon, USA, dusted pollen from Mukdenia to fertilise an unnamed bergenia, knowing that the chances of success were boosted as both plants are members of the huge saxifrage family.

The outcome was dramatic – dark pink flowers from April to June and a mound of jagged, emerald green leathery leaves producing rich autumn patterns resembling brilliant scarlet flames.

Its Chinese parent, Mukdenia rossii, is also a hardy rhizomatous perennial bearing sprays of small, starry, creamy-white flowers and bronze-green, deeply lobed foliage that develops rich claret red tints in autumn.

Hartside stock two named varieties – Mukdenia Karasuba and Mukgenia Nova Flame.

Both relish damp summers and shady homes and both die back in late autumn, so do mark their spot with a white label and watch out for slugs and snails come the spring.

No doubt about it, both look irresistible – and that’s why I’ve ordered one of each!

Hartside is based near Alston, Cumbria, and run by Neil and Sue Huntley. Their plants have to be tough and resilient, growing as they do in the oft-chilly North Pennines, with 2018 a particular year of challenge, courtesy of the crazy weather.

I was immediately struck by the very reasonable prices of Hartside’s plants, most of them entering the realms of “choice,” “desirable” and “uncommon,” as well as many rarities.

Do study the hardy plant collections for even greater savings. Picking out three of these at random, there’s a bundle of eight dwarf rhododendrons discounted to £32; five primula vialii Alison Holland, a chance discovery of the popular “red hot poker” primula in a Northumberland garden and bearing pure white flowers and lime green-tinged buds (£25); and eight autumn gentians to include the sky blue Alex Duguid and deeper Blue Silk and The Caley (£32). There are also ferns, snowdrops and saxifrages . . . and look carefully and you’ll spy our friend the Mukgenia popping up with friends.

⏩⏩➡» http://www.hartsidenursery.co.uk or www.plantswithaltitude.co.uk/01434 381372.

⏩⏩➡» Confused? Top left – Mukdenia Karasuba; above – Mukgenia Nova Flame; above right – Hartside Nursery’s latest catalogue.

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