One seriously good plant
The photo above is Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost.’ It grows in the ghetto of my garden, in the soul-crippling alley between two Victorian houses built snugly close by siblings. A touching story in 1880 maybe. But now, not only is there no light, there is not a speck of moisture, thanks to a Norway Spruce on the neighbor’s side that so sucks up the water here, you can’t even step on the ground without its crunching.
Yet ‘Jack Frost’ carries on in this dismal place, shedding its silvery light and celestially-blue flowers as if it were painted by Fra Angelico and growing on a cloud.
I ought to have 20 of this plant, which the Missouri Botanical Garden recommends as a ground cover. Instead, I have two. Why’s that? Well, there was an interesting thread on GardenWeb last year about mass suicides among New England brunneras. But no–my brunneras seem to be beatific, martyr-like characters able to find a ray of hope even in the inhuman conditions I impose.
No, I only have two because they are ridiculously expensive. The second one is little, something I bought at a season-ending half-off sale and not yet worth discussing. The first one, I bought at fancy-assed Mettowee Mill Nursery in fancy-assed Dorset, Vermont. I don’t usually shop there for perennials, being unwilling to head into the double-digits for glorified weeds. I shop there for flowering shrubs, because they carry really, really gloriously big ones that are really, really worth the splurge.
But I was nonetheless so desperate for something that would grow in my dry shade that I took a recommendation from a woman working there and went home with ‘Jack Frost.’ He was so beautiful, even as little bouquet of three leaves, that I went back the next spring to buy more. The price had gone up to $15 a Jack. I balked, stupidly–one of those gardening moments when I just should have handed over the credit card and forgotten about it.
Since then, I’ve always had my eye out for Jack. You can’t find him everywhere, but I did just see nice ones at a distinctly unfancy country Agway. The price? $18.99. Again, I balked. I’m sorry. Maybe you spend that much on herbaceous plants. But given the rate at which they expire under my care, I don’t.
Why so expensive? The web is full of blather about difficult to propagate on a large scale. Why don’t I just divide mine? Well, it took my first Jack three or four years to reach his present magnificence, and I just don’t have a heart to set him back in any way. So maybe he’s difficult to propagate on small scale, too.
The most interesting thing I learned about Jack, I learned from Larry Hodgson’s book Making the Most of Shade. Hodgson points out that white -and cream-variegated plants tend to be weaker than all-green plants, because the variegation means that parts of the leaves don’t contain chlorophyll and can’t absorb light. Silver variegation, on the other hand, is a translucent cover on a fully-functioning leaf. So silver plants like Jack should be just as robust as green plants.
This only doubles my conviction that Jack should cost $5.99 for a thriving gallon and my yard ought to be full of him.