Thursday 18 January 2018

Our wallflowers wear a coat of many colours

PURPLE PATCH: The ‘Jenny Brook’ wallflower variety
PURPLE PATCH: The ‘Jenny Brook’ wallflower variety

Gerry Daly

About 20 years ago, the purple perennial wallflower became widely available and instantly popular because it was such a good garden flower, and still is.

The first variety to arrive was 'Bowle's Mauve' with masses of spikes of purple flowers over a round, low bush of dark grey-green leaves. It was a revelation. Until then, wall flowers were traditionally grown as spring bedding plants, flowering in April and discarded after flowering.

But all wallflowers are perennial and when grown in dry soil, remarkably so. They even grow well in the mortar joints of old walls, which is where they get their common name. However, when they are grown in heavy ground or overly fertile soil, they tend to become soft and susceptible to root rot diseases. Wind-rocking of over-grown big plants also tends to cause a shortening of their life. But it was not unusual to see some old wallflower plants growing in cottage-style gardens where they were simply left in place year after year, and perhaps given an annual trim.

While 'Bowle's Mauve' led the charge, it has been followed by some real beauties, such as 'Constant Cheer' which has orange flowers that turn purple as they age. 'Jenny Brook' is a very pretty variety with pale yellow flowers that fade to pale purple. 'Poem Mandarine' has orange flowers that fade to a pale plum colour, and has a sweet scent. 'Chelsea Jacket' has a tuft of yellow flowers on top and the lower ones are purple. 'Bredon' has red buds that open to a strong yellow. 'Moonlight' is low and spreading with bright yellow flowers.

'John Codrington' is yellow, flushed with purple that gives a brownish tone. An old double-flowered yellow variety, 'Harper Crewe', is thought to have been popular in the 17th century and perhaps earlier.

These wallflowers appear for sale in garden centres in spring and early summer. The colours are an interesting mixture of purple, red, yellow and brown, a coat of many colours.

These kinds are invaluable for some early flowers and they can be left in position for a few years, at least. Most of them will flower well into summer, although the flower stems may become very straggly at that stage and can be trimmed off. The purple of some kinds is a good spring colour as it contrasts well with daffodils and crocuses. Some cuttings of these wallflowers can be taken to encourage new plants to come on. They root so easily - just stick a few shoots in the soil.

Sunday Independent

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