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      06.04.2011 12:08
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      Easy to grow garden / rockery plant

      Candytuft, of the genus Iberis, is a low-growing garden plant, often seen in flowerbeds and rockeries, that can also colonize rocky areas such as stone garden walls. It's a member of the cabbage or Crucifer family, a relationship that can be recognized most easily when the bright white flowers have dried and the plant sets seed; the shape of the seed-head, with its short spikes and flat, semitransparent seed-pods is quite characteristic for the seed-pods of this group.

      The cultivated plant also has a wild counterpart, which grows in chalky areas in the south of England; I saw some walking in the Chiltern Hills several years ago, where it was growing in open, chalk grassland in some abundance. Wild candytuft looks exactly like a smaller version of the garden plant; the short, flat leaves are dark, glossy green and grow out from tough-looking, ropy stems that have a generally horizontal and slightly twisting growth habit. The plant produces abundant flower-heads, each comprised of dozens of pure white flowers that cover the plant from early spring through to the beginning of summer.

      While candytuft tends to hug the ground, rarely growing more than about a foot high, the plant readily roots itself by means of aerial roots that grow from the horizontal, somewhat brittle stems, which means that not only is it extremely easy to propagate, but that planted candytuft soon establishes itself as an outward-expanding clump. While quick to colonize new areas, the plant seems to be quite sensitive to adverse conditions: part of the large candytuft clump I have in my garden, which I've encouraged to trail down to the ground over the garden wall, has died back this winter, leaving the edges of the patch still quite healthy-looking. In this way - through die-back of parts of the plant - a single clump can easily separate into several, apparently unconnected colonies, which is probably part of candytuft's survival strategy in the wild - and explains the brittleness of the stems also, I suppose.

      As native candytuft is a chalk downland specialist, it's no surprise that in the garden candytuft does best in open, sunny conditions where it isn't over-shaded by other plants. While it's a perennial and clumps will regrow every year, it is also sometimes treated as a bedding plant for inclusion in summer planting schemes and baskets. It's also grown from seed (possibly it's an annual version of the plant you're growing, from this format), and a number of varieties with flowers in shades of pink, purple and lilac instead of white are available.  

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