Tuesday 24 April 2018

Prairie mallow brings a gentle touch of pink


The prairie mallow is looking great in gardens these days. The stop-start summer weather has suited it perfectly. It likes a fair bit of moisture in the soil and some sunshine and, as a result, it has rarely looked better with masses of the most dainty pink flowers. It is such a flower of summer that it would be hard to imagine it at any other time of year.

As the common name indicates, this flower is native to the prairies of North America, where it thrives in grassland, sunny woodland glades and streamsides meadows. And it is part of the mallow family, along with such excellent garden flowers as mallow itself, hollyhocks, abutilon and hibiscus among others. Practically all members of the family are characterised by their relatively large open flowers, often flat, or very shallowly cupped and so it is with the prairie mallow too, or sidalcea which is its botanical name.

The plant that sidalcea most resembles is the musk mallow which is from southern Europe with pale pink flowers on an upright stem, often seen as a garden escape. But the prairie mallow, though similar, is far more elegant. Its stems are slender and the flower spikes more rigidly upright, the dark flower buds yet to open nicely bunched at the top of the stem. The stems are produced freely by the plant, rising from a dense clump of leaves close to the ground.

The plant flowers over a long period in summer, the flowers opening up the stem, and they last well and can be used as cut flowers. Mostly pale pink forms are seen and they are more summery. There are several named varieties, the best-known of which is 'Elsie Heugh' with light pink satiny flowers that are frilled at the petal edges. Pale pink 'Loveliness' is relatively short at 75cm as most kinds can reach one metre and sometimes more. 'Rosanna' is a dark pink-purple. 'Party Girl' has pink flowers, rounded more than others with a central white or pale pink area. 'Oberon' has clear deep-pink flowers.

Sidalcea is easy to grow and not very choosy about soil. It likes moist soil, not likely to dry out, and it will frazzle up in a hot dry summer on light soil. But it is not a wet-ground plant and it will simply rot away if the soil is wet in winter. The soil must be open but retain moisture and be fertile without being too rich which causes the stems to be soft and flop about. Despite these requirements, and full sunshine for best flowers, it is not very finicky. Place it near the middle of a border where its lovely flowers wave about its surroundings, forming a pillar of pink.

Sunday Independent

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