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Taxtime Treat: Sylvia and Pachyphragma macrophyllum

In the U.S., April 15th is Tax Day. Here’s a letter from Sylvia, with a more interesting puzzle than, “Where did I put that form?”


Dear Pomona,

While on holiday last March in North Wales, I saw a plant. I had never seen this plant before, are you like me, intrigued by a plant? We were visiting  Bodnant garden, this is a large garden about 80 acres with stunning mountain views and lots of plants beautifully grown in wonderful settings.  I saw this plant in several shady places, I liked the lacy white flowers, the early flowering and heart shaped green leaves.  I thought I want this plant but what is it!  All I could do was take this picture to identify it later.


A few days later we visited Crug Farm which is a nursery with a small shady garden attached. They specialise in plants they have bought back from their plant hunting expeditions.  Often the plant labels note when and where the plants were collected, we have been here several times.  In the garden I saw the plant and learnt its problem … a long unpronounceable name and no common name, but none the less Pachyphragma macrophyllum came home with me!


This picture was taken on holiday before we carefully transported it back to Dorset and there it stayed in it pots for over a year, now I have a new shady bed to put it in.  It is still an “it”, I can’t remember that name!  The next 3 pictures were taken this March, after it flowers its leaves are useful ground cover and to set of other plants. It did die back in winter but was very early to produce its leaves.

Looking this up on the internet it is described as: weed-smothering (gets out of control?); veins and stems become purple tinted in winter (see pictures).  flowers followed by small fruits (seeds?); height about 12 inches and hardy (one reference to zones 5-9).  In a few years I will be able to give my own assessment of this plant but first I must get “it” out of its pot and into the ground.


Do you know this plant? I am hoping someone grows it and can tell me their experiences. Where you live it may be a common garden or native plant. Perhaps you have a name that I can pronounce and remember. I would appreciate any ideas you have as to what plants to put with “it”, in my new shady bed, either to complement it in spring or to use the green leaves to set of other plants for the rest of the year.

Best wishes Sylvia (England)


{ 26 comments… add one }

  • gail April 15, 2009, 10:20 am

    It looks like a member of the kale family to me! I googled it and it is! The flowers look like kale flowers, but the leaves seem similar to a mustard plant. It sounds interesting…gail

  • tina April 15, 2009, 11:09 am

    Very very pretty. I’ve never seen it before.

  • Racquel April 15, 2009, 11:20 am

    I’m not familiar with this pretty plant Sylvia. Good luck with it in your new shady bed. :)

  • Karen - An Artist's Garden April 15, 2009, 4:26 pm

    Interesting plant.
    Despite living so close (well an hour and a half away) to Crug Farm I have yet to visit it. I think I am frightened, as I know from their website they have so many plants that I want, and I might completely blow the budget!

  • Pomona Belvedere April 16, 2009, 10:09 am

    My first reaction to this plant was the same as Gail’s: “That looks cruciferous.” Only now I guess I have to call it brassicaceous, which somehow doesn’t have the same ring. I have looked it up even in my ‘obscure plant’ references and come up with less than what Sylvia gives us here. Karen, I’d be afraid of Crug Farm too, if I lived near it. My best technique for such expeditions (and bookstores) is to carry only cash and spend (just about exactly) as much as I carry. Good luck! And I’m in suspense to see if this plant mystery will be solved…

  • Daffodil Planter April 18, 2009, 7:47 am

    Well I have a new, common name for this–Sylvia’s White! Lovely, and reminded me at first glance of Bergenia. What an enjoyable story with a happy ending.

  • Pomona Belvedere April 18, 2009, 10:18 am

    I like DP’s name. Maybe naming “it” yourself is the best solution. After all, you’ve got an international core group of people who will adopt it.

  • Sylvia (England) April 20, 2009, 1:53 am

    I think this plant is less frequently grown than I thought. Gail, I really don’t want to think of it as Kale (something you feed to cows!) but I probably will now. Thank you Daffodil Planter, an interesting common name but I am too shy to use it.

    Karen, Crug Farm is tempting, having to transport plants back to Dorset does keep me in check. Once I went there and didn’t buy anything, I got overwhelmed by all the plants. I am addicted to reading labels and just enjoy looking. I will let you know what I buy this year!

    Best wishes Sylvia

  • Frances April 20, 2009, 2:14 am

    Hi Pomona and Sylvia, a very interesting purchase. I hope someone can come up with a better name though Sylvia’s white, maybe Alba Sylvitica has a nice ring?

  • blossom April 20, 2009, 4:09 am

    Sorry, never seen that one before. I guess it stays ‘it’ for now. Very beautiful white flowers, though. They will look prettier if planted in a mass. Imagine a white bed of flowers.

  • Heather April 20, 2009, 5:46 am

    Hi Sylvia- I wish I knew for you what that lovely plant was but I don’t . I made the mistake of planting Ajuga in my garden one time and it took over and smothered everything else. Spreading is not always idea, as I am sure you know. I hope the mystery will be solved soon.

  • Sylvia (England) April 20, 2009, 7:34 am

    Frances, it is interesting that sometimes gardeners (and I am guilty at times) scoff at common names but with tongue twisting names we all fall back on the easiest option.

    Blossom, I haven’t heard of a lot of the plants in your garden and this one does seem not be be cultivated a lot – perhaps it really is kale! See Gale’s comment above.

    Heather, I also have Ajuga but I did know what I was planting and I find it fairly easy to pull up. If it gets into the lawn I am not worried – I would like a lawn that is full of flower! My lawn (I have dug most of it up) is only used by me to reach the beds and my husband when he reluctantly mows it!

    I am enjoying all your comments – thank you, Sylvia

  • Pomona Belvedere April 20, 2009, 11:36 am

    I like your ideas about lawns, Sylvia. Would that more people had them!

  • Anna April 20, 2009, 1:16 pm

    I enjoyed your post Sylvia. I have never been to Crug Farm or Bodnant even though they are not so far away. Must remedy that soon. I have not heard of your new plant before – it does look rather attractive. Beth Chatto writes about it and says that is sometimes wrongly called cardamine asarifolia – now that’s an easier mouthful :)

  • Alice Joyce April 20, 2009, 2:58 pm

    Can’t say I’m familiar with this plant, but certainly with Crug Farm! Do hope to visit there sometime – lucky you. And I agree completely with DP. Don’t be modest, perhaps you might bestow a name that will stick. Warm wishes,

  • Cameron (Defining Your Home Garden) April 20, 2009, 4:02 pm

    It’s pretty! Fine Gardening has it in their list and it does sound like a good plant.


  • Sylvia (England) April 21, 2009, 7:34 am

    Anna, a visit to Crug Farm is worth it just to admire their garden and read the labels. The labels are marked with when and where they found the plants. Bodnant is beautiful, one of the best NT gardens I have been at different times of the year and it is always worth it. My favourite garden in that area is Plas Brondanw it was created by Sir Clough William-Ellis, it is not a large garden but very individual.

    Alice , I hope you get to Crug Farm one day, do visit Bodnant and Plas Brondanw while you are in the area.

    Cameron, thank you for your comment. When I bought the plant I didn’t realise how rarely it is grown, I just liked it – what better reason is there for getting a plant.

    Best wishes Sylvia

  • kerri April 21, 2009, 8:20 am

    Hello Sylvia,
    The white flower is very pretty, and I like those glossy leaves too. It has a familiar look, and when I Googled it, I found it’s in the mustard family (brassicaceae), which agrees with what others have found. White mustard would be an easy name to remember :) It looks very much like the yellow mustard that grows as a prolific weed around here, and even though a pest, a field of it looks very pretty. I posted a picture of a mustard field in one of my wildflower posts some time ago.
    This plant should look lovely in your new shade garden.

  • Pomona Belvedere April 21, 2009, 1:00 pm

    It’s so interesting to hear about gardens from the UK readers; we hear about some of the most famous but I never heard of Plas Brodanw which I’m assuming is Welsh.

    What good research Anna, even if it didn’t seem to turn up the ideal name…

    Kerri, I agree with you about wild mustard and all its variants, I really like them even though lots of people think they’re only awful weeds. They don’t seem to be all that invasive, either, though of course we don’t have summer rains to support them.

    Sylvia, if Fine Gardening has this plant in their lists then you are a crackerjack plant chooser.

  • VW April 21, 2009, 7:52 pm

    The name may be devilish bu the flowers are angelic! I wouldn’t mind one of these in my garden, will have to keep an eye out at my local nursery.

  • Sylvia (England) April 22, 2009, 2:44 am

    Kerri, thank you for your comment White mustard does sound a reasonable name. I like plants that are good as a background as well as having their own season of flowers.

    Pomona, yes Plas Brodanw is in North Wales, it is not as well know as Portmeirion. Plas Brodanw was the home of Clough Williams-Ellis who created an Italianate resort village, Portmeirion, nearby. http://www.brondanw.org if you want to know more.

    VW Thanks for your comment, made me smile. Hope you find it, I will let you know how it develops in my garden – one day I would like to divide it but it may seed.

    Best wishes Sylvia

  • Camellia April 22, 2009, 3:30 pm

    Isn’t that exciting, to find a “new” plant. A sweet addition in shade, and weed-smothering sounds good to me…

  • Joanne April 23, 2009, 4:17 am

    Hi Lovely looking plant not one I am familiar with. My tip for not spending too much is to take Mike with me.

    I have learnt to be clever at smuggling plants home and have a weakness for clematis. One day talking to someone I said I had over forty clematis plants. I did not realise Mike was standing within earshot until he exclimed FORTY! Cat out of bag. Well all is forgiven when they start to flower and he proudly talks about them and has been known to bring colleagues back to see them in flower.

  • Anna/Flowergardengirl April 24, 2009, 11:39 am

    So it’s Mustard? I’ve never seen it before. I’m working at the garden center tomorrow. I’ll look around and see if they have one.

  • Silvia Romania April 27, 2009, 9:05 am

    I am sorry, Sylvia, but I don’t know the name fo the flower. Maybe someone will let us ALL know soon!

  • Victoria April 28, 2009, 7:04 am

    Thanks, Sylvia, I’d never heard of this plant (and with a name like that, I may never hear of it again!) but it’s beautiful. When you say it does well in shade, does it have to be damp shade? I only have the dry kind. After reading Gail’s comment, I think I may mentally file it as ‘Gail’s Kale’!

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