Saturday 23 September 2017

Self-seeder loves the sun

Dusty miller
Dusty miller

Gerry Daly

Dusty miller shares its common name with some other plants, notably silvery-leaved cineraria. The latter has yellow flowers in bunches while the one in question has deep magenta flowers scattered all over the plant.

They are both called dusty miller because of their covering of white-silver hairs on the leaves and stems. But apart from that, they have nothing in common, not being from related plant families. The botanical name of dusty miller is Lychnis coronaria, the second part meaning a crown, referring to the rounded shape of the flowers.

In full sunshine the white hairs look their brightest silver. The silver background is perfect for the flowers, which are usually mostly deep magenta-red, fading towards the centre to bright magenta and a tiny eye of light pink, almost white. The contrast is eye-catching and seems to shimmer in the sunlight. The hairs protect the stems and leaves from strong sunshine and wind-exposure in their dry native region in south-eastern Europe.

Dusty miller was popular in the cottage gardens of old where it was passed on as seedling plants, self-sown usually, or as seeds. It's one of those plants that often finds its way into gardens. It appears as a small seedling because dusty miller is such a prolific producer of seeds. These seeds are tiny, not much bigger than a grain of salt and round in shape, so they easily fall into neighbouring soil or into pots. They can be washed to new places by rainwater or carried on soil on footwear or tools.

It's not unusual to see seedlings of dusty miller growing in pots at plant sales. Sometimes they're not small at all but up to 10cm tall. If planted, they can flourish in a new location, or a seed carried on a pot can sprout and grow. Often, its new owners have no idea of the plant they have unknowingly acquired.

The plants usually flower the second year and wither back slowly after flowering, lasting just a few years, which is why they so readily self-sow.

Once you have dusty miller, it will always pop up somewhere. It grows best and looks best in light, well-drained soil in a sunny spot, and it makes a useful filler in a new border until other more permanent plants can take their place.

QI have strange blobs of jelly on my pebble path and was wondering what they are. The blobs are about the same size as my shoe. I searched the internet but got no joy.

A Jelly-like algae may appear on paths and old lawns after rain and will usually disappear in dry weather but can be slippery and potentially dangerous causing falls. There are various algicides available for paths, or household bleach can be applied, diluted as directed. These cannot be used on a lawn but lawn mosskiller will give control.

  • Send your questions to gerrydaly@independent.ie. Questions can only be answered on this page.

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