Ajuga aka Bugle or Bugleweed
"We -- Bee & I -- live by the quaffing --
'Tisn't all Hock -- with us --
Life has its Ale --
But it's many a lay of the Dim Burgundy --
We chant -- for cheer -- when the Wines -- fail."
As a child of seven I started one of my very first gardens, a rockery. With my Yakama Indian great-grandfather's assistance, rocks were piled around a tree stump, dirt piled over the rocks, & I began the habit of gathering interesting looking rocks which I still do to this very day. I surrounded my rock garden with interesting rocks I dragged home from near & far, & whenever we passed a rockhound shack on the side of the road, or an aquarium store, I would beg to stop & I would search for big exciting rocks.
I began making my own plant selections for the rockery, including gifts from neighbors. Among the first things I planted were bergenias & ajuga, the latter from Tiny, a wonderfully odd & very little woman who lived next door & never let anyone in her house because it was piled up to the ceiling with newspapers & magazines & junk, with little trails through the stacks.
Once she hired me to help move out some of the magazines, but would not let me come any further than the front porch. I sat on the porch waiting for her to come out with the next load of magazines, & while I was waiting, I looked at the old publications with great delight. When Tiny saw how much I liked the magazines, she changed her mind about getting rid of anything & took them back to replace atop her endless stacks. I probably got a dollar out of the abandoned deal.
Odd she may have been, but she was a kind soul. When she saw me lugging rocks & planting plants, she dug up a big patch of weedy bugles & brought them to me. How reliable they were! Perfect for a child's rockery. These attracted scads of bees & butterflies & flowered so reliably & for so long that they gave me the impression that I truly did have a green thumb on one or the other of my tiny dirt-grubbing hands.
Though they're a wildflower with considerable nostalgic power for me, nevertheless, for several years I avoided planting any ajugas at Granny Artemis's & my house, as they do seem a mite weedy at times, & the fanciest new cultivars with gigantic flowers or gigantic crinkly leaves actually strike me as uglier than the wild forms or the older humbler cultivars.
But the time came when just the right spot was in front of me for some bugles, in a new morning-sun garden I had built behind a short stacked-stone wall, with a 'Sun Gold' Japanese dwarf cypress that I did not want to be obscured by anything tall in front of it. One of the two varieties I planted there was Ajuga reptans 'Burgundy Glow.'
In spring, new growth on the fantastically variegated 'Burgundy Glow' is white, green, pink, & rose. It can pass through several shades through the year, sometimes mostly white & green, sometimes mostly rose-pink & green. Then in autumn the older leaves turn a shimmering bronze & remain semi-evergreen through winter, although leaves that make it through winter will generally need to be trimmed away before new spring growth comes in.
It likes semi-shade or morning sun, but can tolerate just about any situation from full sun to deep shade, & will even grow under walnut trees. Flowers occur as early as March & are certainly in full sway for April & May & last as late as June. Blooms on 'Burgundy Glow' are fat pyramids of showy Prussian blue florets, & quite successful gaining attention even amidst such colorful foliage.
When it finishes flowering the spreading clump should be sheered to rid it of drying flowers, to better highlight the variegated leaves. Extremely hardy, like all ajugas 'Burgundy Glow' forms a dense enough mat that it is excellent for keeping down weeds, though when growing in harsh conditions it may thrive more thinly & not so easily keep weeds at bay.
It spreads rapidly by underground stolons, is easily divided, & can displace more delicate small plants & groundcovers, but is no threat to larger perennials or shrubs.
The leaves & young shoots of ajuga cultivars are edible if a mite bitter, & 'Burgundy Glow' in particular certainly can add color to salads.
Ajuga reptens var atropurpurea
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