Friday 23 August 2019

In The Garden: Summer lovin' - tree mallow loves to be beside the seaside

MALLOW: Lavatera grows rapidly and is tough and hardy
MALLOW: Lavatera grows rapidly and is tough and hardy

Gerry Daly

The tree mallow is a tough native plant only found growing close to the coast, often right in the teeth of sea gales on rocky headlands and close to sandy beaches.

It does not look like a plant that would withstand strong coastal gales. It has a strong central stem up to one metre tall with large round leaves that look like they would catch the wind and have the plant tossed over.

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But the base is woody and tough and the plant, though well battered, withstands anything thrown at it.

The purple flowers are relatively small and not obvious but still pretty.

This is a biennial or short-lived perennial but not really a garden plant, except perhaps in an exposed coastal garden where it could have a useful role.

The botanical name is Lavatera arborea, the second part of the name means tree-like, a bit of any exaggeration, but seen, relative to other, smaller, species.

The main garden flower of the mallows is the tree lavatera, the name lavatera used to distinguish the two 'tree' species.

This is Lavatera thuringiaca, a magnificent short-lived shrub. It grows rapidly to about two metres, in just a couple of years.

The tall stems, whippy and slender, carry lots of large pink mallow flowers. The basic species has pink flowers but other shades have been selected. The flowers have the typical rounded, shallow funnel shape that is characteristic of the mallow family.

'Burgundy Wine' has dark purple flowers and 'Barnsley' has pale pink flowers fading to white but carrying a flash of pink at the throat. This airy and lively plant lights a whole garden with brightness and its exuberant flowering. All of these tree lavateras are just the same, making a big blow of colour and flowers. They are ideal for filling out a shrub border while more permanent plants, slower-growing, eventually make size.

Lavatera is short-lived as it is not woody and gets shattered by wind and the plants die off. This can be delayed by pruning back the flowered shoots after flowering or hard in early spring. A few years ago, many plants died due to a dieback disease, but this seems to have abated, probably with so many plants gone.

Another kind of mallow, Lavatera trimestris, native to the Mediterranean region, known as rose mallow, is a one-summer annual, useful for quick impact in the garden. The plants are well capable of making one metre in height from an early spring sowing.

The upright plants have strong stems and carry masses of large showy flowers. There are two basic colours, like most mallows, pink-purple or white, although there are some shades of pink.

'Mont Blanc' is a pure white, lovely, and 'Silver Cup' is a superb pink, while 'Pink Beauty' has pale pink flowers veined with purple-pink. This is a great flower to use in new borders or anywhere else a quick and effective filler is needed for the summer.

It is so vigorous it will keep down weeds. The open, shallow-cupped and bright flowers of the mallows bring a great summery touch to the garden.

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