Thursday 5 December 2019

Colourful daisies that will also keep fleas away


VERSATILE: Fleabanes are great plants for a rock garden
VERSATILE: Fleabanes are great plants for a rock garden

Gerry Ryan

Flowering very prettily these days, fleabanes look just like daisies with lots of narrow petals. And they are part of the daisy family. The common name of fleabane is a bit unfortunate and derives from the use of this herb for strewing on floors to deter fleas in days gone by. There are low-growing kinds and taller ones.

The shorter kinds, mat-forming, often flower right through summer to almost autumn. This plant is also known as beach aster, and has light mauve flowers and fleshy evergreen foliage. There is a lovely pink form called elstead pink, which has been used in breeding new kinds. Dignity is mauve-violet and low growing, and dimity is low, tufted and carries bright pink daisies.

These are great plants for a rock garden or a bank or to tumble down over a retaining wall. For some reason, they look good with rock nearby or clambering over rocks. This is probably due to the alpine nature of the flower and the excellent drainage which is available to it in those circumstances.

The alpine kinds form a tuft of leaves and stems about 25 to 30cm tall, and the taller, upright kinds are natives of scrubby rocky prairie and mountain grassland. Both of these produce quite large daisy flowers, up to 4cm across, very reminiscent of asters to which they are related.

These are robust, easily grown flowers. The shorter kinds look good at the front of a border. The taller kinds can be used further into a bed or border where they provide good daisy flowers in a range of colours, shades of blue and red, in early to mid-summer.

Of the taller kinds, the old variety quakeress is still one of the best, with vigorous, sturdy branching stems to about 60cm. It has light pink flowers, almost white in some cases - a very lively plant.

Charity is the same height with bright sparkling pink flowers, the petals shading slightly as they reach the central yellow button. Dunkelste aller, of the same height, has dark violet-blue flowers. It is earlier to flower than many others.

The Mexican fleabane has its origin in Central America. This lovely little plant makes small daisy flowers, the same size as lawn daisies and practically the same in structure, carried on long, slender and wiry stems.

And it self-sows freely in gardens, and beyond. Each flower opens white and slowly changes to light pink and dark-pink, almost purple, before it withers.

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