Life Gardens

Wednesday 21 March 2018

In the Garden: Honesty is back in favour

Lunaria annua is a pretty, old-fashioned flower
Lunaria annua is a pretty, old-fashioned flower

Gerry Daly

Honesty is an old-fashioned flower that has once again begun to feature in gardens. Decades ago it was a very popular flower in many old-style cottage gardens, for the reason that it was easy to raise from the seeds received from a neighbour or friend - and from then it self-sowed happily in its new territory.

Cottage gardens were made with flowers and shrubs that came easily from seeds or slips. In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in the cottage-garden style and its natural rough-and-tumble approach.

So it is not surprising that honesty and other similar styled plants have come back into favour.

Honesty gets its name from the language of flowers in which it represents that virtue. It is commonly called 'moon flower', 'silver dollars' and 'money flower', and the botanical name lunaria means simply 'moonflower'. The moon flower name (and other similar names) refer to the flat, coin-sized seed pods that, when dried out, are translucent or moon-like.

Moonflower flowers in late March to early summer with purple or white flowers on a tall spire to about 70 to 90cm, though only half that height if the soil is light, not fertile and dry. The purple shades can vary, being blueish or wine or lilac and a mix of shades can be very pretty, the white ones setting off the others.

Honesty is not a native flower - but it is sometimes seen as a garden escape by roadsides and on waste ground, where it favours well-drained soil in light shade.

Soil that is too dry tends to stunt the plants and soil that is too rich makes them leafy and, in both cases, they lose some of their charm.

The flowers are sweetly scented, like night scented stock, to which the plant is related, both being cabbage family members and having the cabbage family's typical four-petalled flowers in a cross, or cruciform shape. When the flowers fade, the plant becomes less obvious as the rounded green pods form, and later these dry out and become silvery.

The seed-pods eventually split and the flattened seeds are usually shed very close to the parent plant. It is common for new plants to self-sow in roughly the same place.

But it can wander about a bit too, carried on tools or footwear, or by rain washing the seeds to new locations. Although it self-sows freely, it never becomes a weedy nuisance, because the plants are annuals or biennials.

Being annual means that it flowers in summer from sowing in early spring, but it is naturally a biennial plant which means that it grows in one and flowers the next.

There is a related perennial species, Lunaria rediviva, which is very similar but is a perennial (though it is generally not long-lived, lasting just a few years). It has pale lilac flowers, almost white, very pretty at twilight, and is scented too.


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