Old faithful

The ever-reliable perennial candytuft.
The ever-reliable perennial candytuft.
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People tend to take a lot for granted; we assume that the Co-op will always be caring and sharing, that mother knows best and that politicians are all alike and in it purely for what they can get out of it.

We also expect things to do exactly what it says on the tin and for plants to keep on doing what they always do – growing and flowering, growing and fruiting, growing...

Which is why it comes as a shock when the Co-op runs into trouble, when mum admits she made a mistake and when a politician is revealed to be in it for the good of the community. And, of course, when a plant fails to put in an appearance at the allotted time.

Thankfully, such shocks are few and far between and spring brings with it snowdrops, daffodils, apple blossom, a worrying number of weeds – and the delightful but vastly under-rated Iberis commutate, aka perennial candytuft, and also called I sempervirens.

For something so small, it can provide a lot of pleasure; in fact, this member of the cabbage family (Brassicaceae) has the ability to begin flowering in April and still be blooming well into June.

Iberis can be annuals, evergreen perennials or even shrubs, with narrow leaves and racemes of white, pink or purple flowers, but it is the rockery form which has proved to be such a godsend.

I sempervirens is a spreading evergreen which may reach 30cm in height but it tends to spread outwards rather than upwards, so it’s best to keep a eye on it if you plant it in a small rockery where its narrow, dark green leaves will gradually overpower many a more genteel plant.

The flowers tend to be pure white, and start out almost flat before gradually fattening out on top of short stems. If it gets out of control, pull it up; otherwise, prune it lightly after the flowers have faded.

This is a little plant which loves the sun, so give it an open site, a south-facing wall where it can root in cracks and crevices, or even encourage it to take hold in gravel paths. It likes moisture but not waterlogging, can tolerate most soils (in fact, poorer soils seem to suit it down to the ground) and is just as much at home in a container as it is in open ground.