Sunday 22 October 2017

Bright, brilliant and easy to grow

The snapdragon
The snapdragon

Gerry Daly

Snapdragon gets its common name from the way the flowers snap open when the sides are pinched together. When released, the flower snaps shut.

The bottom lip of the snapdragon drops down to open when a bee lands. Most snapdragon flowers have a well-marked landing area on the lower lip of the flower to encourage visiting bees. The bee is rewarded with nectar and unconsciously transfers pollen within the flower and to other flowers.

It is not at all unusual for snapdragons to spring up as self-sown seedlings in the garden, even in gardens that never had these flowers planted.

The seeds are very small and easily transported to new sites, and 'wild' plants occasionally pop up on waste ground and on old walls. So snapdragon is very easy to grow from seeds. These can be sown in early autumn or in early spring. The autumn-sown seeds come into flower earlier than those sown in spring.

This flower, correctly called antirrhinum, is strictly-speaking a perennial with a woody root and flowers for many years, but it is often treated as an annual, thrown out after one year.

It is not the greatest bedding plant because it has a relatively short flowering season compared with many other bedding plants. Its first flower spikes carry the main flowering show and the secondary spikes continue it for a few weeks.

For this reason, snapdragon is more often seen growing along with later- and longer-flowering bedding plants. It is often used in pots and containers to give a good early summer show.

Snapdragon also can be treated as a soft shrub, the flower heads cut off to prevent seed formation and the plants left in place for a few years until they become too straggly.

Antirrhinum is from southern Europe and it loves to grow in full sunshine, and in fertile but well-drained soil. Self-sown seedlings growing in crevices in old masonry and between paving slabs give a good indication of the conditions they enjoy.

The plant is not completely hardy and can be killed by hard frost, but if it is grown in well-drained soil, it will resist all but the hardest frost.

There is a brilliant range of bright colours, with some of the clearest yellows and brightest reds of any bedding plant, and there are new trailing types that are great for hanging baskets. These are hybrids with asarina, a low-growing spreading species that used to be classed as antirrhinum.

This parent has soft, hairy leaves and stems and some of the new trailing kinds have this soft appearance.

There are also various flower forms, such as bell-shaped flowers and doubles, known as azalea-flowered, but it is hard to beat the traditional favourites and, besides, these fancy flower forms do not snap open.

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