How To Grow Fragrant Wallflowers
Fill the garden with scent this spring with this old fashioned favourite
Named because of their habit of growing out of old walls, rocks & quarries, wallflowers provide an early spring display of fragrant flowers whose velvety petals can provide a striking backdrop to spring bulbs. They are nectar rich plants, which encourage a wide range of beneficial wildlife, such as ladybirds, lacewings and hoverflies into the garden. As they can start flowering from mid to late March they are also a source of nectar for emerging insects early on in the year. They are available in a range of colours to suit your spring planting scheme & make a colourful display when combined with daffodils & tulips or planted in large swathes through grasses such as the golden oat grass Stipa gigantea.
Most wallflowers are considered to be biennial or short lived perennials & need to be planted out in autumn to flower the following spring. They prefer a well-drained soil in plenty of sun, tolerating poor alkaline soils rather than rich soils. If you are growing from seed you can sow direct into prepared garden soil or start them off in seed compost on a windowsill or greenhouse in early summer (follow the directions on the seed packet). Grow them on in pots & get them established in their final planting position in August or well before the weather turns colder in October. Alternatively, buy bare root or potted wallflowers from the garden centre to plant out in September. If you want tall straight stems for cutting, keep them supported as they grow by stretching pea & bean netting over each block of plants tied to canes at the corners. Water them until they are established &leave them until the following spring when you can reap the rewards of your work. After they have started flowering & as the weather starts to warm up in April you will need to cut the flowers for indoors or deadhead regularly to prolong flowering & prevent them running to seed. This is not exactly a hardship when you can enjoy a vase of fragrant & colourful velvety blooms in the house on a warm spring day!
Wallflowers are available in mixed selections or a range of single colours from deep purple & red to pink, golden orange & ivory so you can choose from bold statement planting to more subtle pastels or creams. They also come in a range of sizes; dwarf varieties grow to approximately 20-25cm tall so are suitable for patio container planting & the tall varieties grow to approximately 30-40cm & make better plants for taller border combinations. We have a range of bare root wallflowers in stock this October (2013) which are ready for planting out. Dwarf varieties are available in purple or mixed packs, tall varieties in pink or mixed packs & average height (25-30cm) varieties in ivory, primrose, golden, orange & scarlet.
If biennial wallflowers seem like a bit of hard work there are several more perennial varieties that you could try although they don’t tend to be as fragrant as the less hardy varieties. Named after plantsman E.A. Bowles, 'Bowles’ Mauve is one of very few Erysimums to have received the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society. This is a compact perennial wallflower with mauve to purple subtly scented flowers, set off beautifully by the glaucous grey foliage. It is an excellent, quick growing perennial for flower borders or patio containers. Attractive to bees and butterflies, it can also be used in flower arranging. It flowers from late winter to early autumn and prefers a sunny position, sheltered from the wind, with well drained neutral to alkaline soil. Light clipping after flowering will lead many to repeat flower in the autumn, some varieties going right on till the severe frosts start. Propagate by summer or autumn cuttings. Height and spread after 4 years 75 x 60cm (30” x 24”).
Other varieties include Erysimum 'Fragrant Sunshine' and Erysimum 'Treasure' F1 Mix. Both are compact, branching, semi-evergreen perennials. 'Treasure' F1 Mix has lush, green leaves and erect racemes of fragrant, yellow, red, primrose and bronze flowers in early spring to late summer. 'Fragrant Sunshine' has dark green, linear leaves and clusters of fragrant, bright yellow flowers in early spring and summer.
So why not give biennial wallflowers a try? They are the perfect companions to spring bulbs as they can be planted together & flower at the same time. The wallflowers will continue to provide some interest over the winter with the promise of early fragrant flowers for the home next spring!