Aubretia, Aubrieta: “Also Answers to Aubrietia”
Time to rethink the quietly vibrant aubretia, dutiful companion of stone walls and informal paving. Also nicknamed rock cress, it is a staple of old-fashioned gardens, planted in old-fashioned color combinations, where primary colors jostle for attention. Planted as a monoculture, it is an elegant thing.
Photography by Britt Willoughby Dyer.
Aubretias are a classic component of real cottage gardens, creeping across the front path, or tumbling out of weathered stone walls. They are also essential to a rockery, tucked into its nooks and crannies, along with white snow-in-summer and golden yellow alyssum. Having dominated British gardening in the 20th century, the rockery’s comeback is as yet unscheduled. The dream of a cottage garden is alive and well on the other hand, and it’s just the place for aubretia, with some consideration.
First, aubretia doesn’t have to form a blanket of flowers. Grown in smaller groups, the seeds can be blown into wall crevices with a straw (as suggested by Christopher Lloyd in The Cottage Garden.) Secondly, clothe a wall in such a way that it is flattered by its covering, not smothered by it. Thirdly, it must be kept away from other creepers and chink dwellers, to be allowed to make an impression.
• A native of central Asia and southern Europe, aubretia is now synonymous with a British style of gardening, for better or worse.
• Humble in stature yet capable of making a splash, aubretia flowers from late winter until the end of May (in the UK).
• Named after an 18th century botanical artist, Claude Aubriet, aubretia is correctly named aubrieta, though that is considered more tricky to pronounce and no one seems to mind.
Keep It Alive
• A sunny position and excellent drainage are essential; limestone is ideal.
• Aubretia needs to be sheared or clipped hard after flowering, to prevent woodiness, while keeping the greenery youthful.
• Recommended varieties are Aubrieta ‘Doctor Mules’ and magenta ‘Red Cascade’ which both have an RHS Award of Garden Merit. Aubretia is hardy to zone 4.
For more creepers, see:
- Field Guide: Bacopa.
- Hardscaping 101: Ground Covers to Plant Between Pavers.
- Garden Design 101: Alyssum.