A few weeks ago I had my eyes well and truly opened as to the above featured plant. I was enjoying a brief holiday in the Dolomites with friends and making a return to Bavaria via Austria and the high pass of Staller Sattel (2052m). It was Dieter Schacht’s suggestion that this might prove a rewarding detour and how right he proved to be. Having arrived at the pass, I navigated my way past some 50 or more Harley Davidsons and headed down the road to an adequate parking place beside a wee lake. The “eagle” eyes of Klaus Patzner spotted a few plants of Saponaria pumilio growing in the turf beside the road. This alerted us to the fact that we were now well past the flowering time of our favoured primulas and pulsatillas that were prevalent on this acidic terrain and our attention moved to the alpine soapwort. We soon encountered fine specimens wedged between an unforgiving granite-like rock in a variety of habitats enjoying full exposure. On further inspection we were to find some exposed rocky mounds consisting of the deep tracts of beautifully drained gritty substrate supporting hundreds of perfect specimens of the above saponaria. We were simply spell-bound and nodded our appreciation at the power of “timing” and the curious beauty of nature.
The species is native to the Eastern Alps and notably the summit gravels of the Austrian Hohe Tauern. It is fiercely calcifuges, forming shiny domes and mats the size of a domestic cushion. These great lucent domes emanate from just one central taproot. It is generally flowering from mid-July onwards and in its best forms has pale to deep-pink flowers which sit on dark red, baggy calyces.
It can only be successfully propagated from seed but the closely-related hybrids which are more commonly available in the trade must be increased by non-flowering cuttings, generally taken after flowering. I would recommend planting this saponaria in a trough or raised bed in an open position, wedged between pieces of sandstone.
The following hybrids and cultivars will compliment the true species and will prove more vigorous:
Availability: Aberconwy Nursery tel. 01492 580875