Since the RHS trial of ajugas ended in 2001, a number of good new varieties have appeared. Which is just as well, as at the end of the three year trial it was decided that not one of almost forty entries was good enough to deserve an Award of Garden Merit. Many recent introductions have either been unusually large or unusually neat and compact in growth, the latest on the market is ‘Dixie Chip'.
‘Dixie Chip' has two features which are especially striking. First, its dwarf and compact habit. Reaching only 10cm/4in high it's one of the smallest bugles and with its slow spread it takes a few years to reach 25cm/10in. Being so tight in its growth, when it blooms in spring the short spikes of purplish-blue emerge so close together that they make a real impact even though they are so short.
But it's the foliage which is the most striking. The short and slender leaves come in a delightful varying blend of green, cream and rosy purple - colours which set off the flowers beautifully.
Of course bugles like shade and, with its unusually compact and neat growth, this is an ideal plant to grow in cracks in paving in shady places - and situation for which there are not too many candidates. Its dense weed suppressing habit makes it valuable in shady corners in small gardens and it's lovely in troughs in shady places.
‘Dixie Chip' is a sport of the equally compact A. reptans ‘Valfredda', which is known in the the United States as Chocolate Chip. It arose at ItSaul Plants, a wholesale grower in Georgia, which has created many of the hybrid echinaceas which have had such an impact in recent years. Dixie is the name used for the states in the south of the USA, including Georgia, which fought on the Confederate side in the American Civil War.
Ajuga reptans ‘Dixie Chip' is available from Lodge Lane Nursery, owned by Sue Beesley who took over the nursery in 2007 after being chosen as BBC Gardener of the Year in 2006.