Wednesday 21 March 2018

Pincushion flowers make their pretty point

Pincushion flowers
Pincushion flowers

The pretty blue flowers of wild scabious have been in flower for a couple of weeks and still have more time to go. There are three kinds of wild scabious, all with faded blue pincushion flowers. These appear in summer by roadsides, field margins and some of them on old dunes.

The field scabious has pale-blue flowers, flat and broad with a scattering of the pin-head anthers and grows in dry places. The devil's bit scabious has a smaller flower, more rounded in shape. The sheep scabious is similar, though it is not related. Of the three, only the field scabious has found its way into gardens. Sometimes, wild species can be difficult to grow if the conditions are not as they like them.

While the native species are not much grown, there are lots of attractive foreign relatives to take their place. The most popular of these is the true scabious itself. Most popular in recent years is 'Butterfly Blue' which has soft blue flowers and does really attract butterflies, and the similar 'Pink Mist, both carrying the flowers on stalks about 40cm tall and showing them off nicely.

'Miss Willmott' is a tall border species with white flowers, carried in a long succession. 'Clive Greaves' is a very good variety with lavender-purple flowers. The sweet scabious has dark purple pincushions, more rounded on top. The yellow scabious or giant scabious is even taller, reaching two metres, with great waving stems topped with broad pincushion flowers in pale yellow, really only suitable for a big herbaceous border.

Much more at home with smaller herbaceous perennials is the purple scabious, or knautia, which has become very popular in recent years. This smallish plant produces dark wine-red flowers over a long period in mid-summer. It is a great plant for a flower border where its dark colour sets off other flowers so well. It looks great with any colour but it is especially good with blue, yellow, white and pink flowers and superb with silvery or grey foliage.

It also has quite an airy look to it. First, the flower buds appear and grow in size to flowering, making a matrix. And afterwards the seed heads maintain a gauzy presence that sets off other larger flowers, such as dahlias, to perfection.

All kinds of garden scabious, and there are a lot of kinds, are easy to grow. They like to be grown in fertile but not too rich soil. The ground needs to be well-drained and in full sunshine. If the ground is too dry, they can suffer mildew but usually they are trouble-free. The perennial types are best divided every few years to induce some vigour.

Sunday Independent

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