Harvest a bit of nature’s own beauty and sow an Ultraviolet dream
Today I’m sitting at my desk admiring fluffy snowflakes drift by the window, landing on a thick layer of white covering the fields outside. It’s a beautiful sight, calm and clean, but also one that reminds me of the plants lying dormant in the ground beneath it. When admiring the same fields outside my house in late Summer the scene is so very different to the one I am looking at now.
Where now the white acts as a flawless backdrop of white for branches and tree trunks, in Summer I always find myself admiring the abundance of colour and form in nature left to its own devises. I love how many wildflowers that have self seeded themselves across the fields, randomly dotting the landscape. The native orchids, beautiful grasses and flashes of yellow buttercup brighten up the meadows and are testament to how beautiful nature can be even without human interference.
There is one plant that I always notice in the Summer meadow that grows in delicate drifts of purple, hazy lilac floating above all grasses and other wildflowers. This is the Succisa pratensis, also known as devil’s-bit or devil’s-bit scabious, which plays such an important role in the wild scenes of our Irish landscape. It’s incredible ultra-violet flowers appear to hover magically above all other plants and create large areas of colour at heights where little else is in flower.
This wild plant is actually a flowering plant from the honeysuckle family and grows well on many soils, including chalky, damp and boggy soil, making it a very useful plant for a damp meadow scheme. This particular Scabious is slightly different from similar looking plants such as the Knautia arvensis-the Field scabious for example, or the Scabiosa atropurpurea-the sweet scabious, which are very similar in their pin-cushion appearance but have differently numbered lobes and therefore has been placed in a separate genus in the same family.
Interestingly, the genus name ‘Scabiosa’ comes from the word scabies which actually means ‘to scratch’ in Latin and this can be led back to the fact that in medieval times the plants were believed to relieve the itch from many skin conditions including scabies- its roots were even prescribed as an ointment for swollen throats, wounds, snake bites and even the plague! The common name, ‘Devils’s bit’ on the other hand derived from folk takes which tell of the devil biting off the short black root of the plant in anger because of it’s ability to cure illness.
These pretty plants are great for so many reasons. First of all, they are relatively easy to grow and sow from seed, making them wonderful plants to add in elegant swathes in the border. They are also prolific bloomers, I have found them to be incredibly floriferous in my own border, with some blooming for many months even when cut right back down to the base after looking a little ragged. Then to top it off, they are fantastic for cut flowers and last well over a week in a vase meaning that you can always steal a few for your indoor displays without the plant looking too ravaged.
In the outdoor garden scheme many Scabious are great additions to add character to the border. Planted to perform the same magical effect as in the wild, these plants can elegantly hover above other plants due to their small leaf bases and tall elegant stems with their pin-cushion bloom. The shape of the flowers, with their rounded, mounds of fluffy colour are great contrasts to slender accents of ornamental grasses and really bring that wildflower feel to a scheme.
If you’re loving the idea of adding some wild pin-cushion accents to your garden there are plenty of options to get inspired by:
Scabiosa ‘Butterfly Blue’
This lovely small specimen has delicate lavender-blue flowers and is ideal for a sunny, well drained front of the border or rock garden. It flowers from July to September it’s neat size of 40cm height and 40 cm spread makes it a fantastic option for adding colour and longevity to planted containers. As it’s name suggests, butterflies absolutely love this plant and with regular deadheading the flowers will provide a rich source of nectar for many months.
Team with: Hylotelephium (Herbstfreude Group) syn Sedum Autumn Joy. This beautiful, succulent plant has wonderful clusters of salmon pink flower-heads from August to September and looks wonderful with the lilac flowers of the ‘Butterfly Blue’.
This gorgeously deep-lilac to claret-coloured scabious flowers from June to August and enjoys a moderately fertile and well-drained, neutral to slightly alkaline soil. The beautiful flowers are also rich in nectar and are fantastic for bringing wildlife into the garden such as bees and insects. Butterflies absolutely love them and some of my own have been absolutely covered with flapping wings on a sunny day. This variety can grow up to 90cm in height but has a relatively neat spread of only about 25cm making it ideal to sow in drifts between other perennials.
Team with: The daisy-like flowers of the Calendula officinalis-pot marigold-give a striking colour contrast to the purple of the Scabiosa atropurpurea.
The Macedonian scabious is a wonderfully airy perennial that again has tall stems with small pin-cushion shaped flowers in a striking crimson colour. It flowers from July to September and many often flower well into the Winter, bringing long-lasting colour to a herbaceous or mixed border. It grows to about 80cm in height and has a relatively neat spread of about 45cm in width but it does tend to sprawl a little so may need some support. It enjoys alkaline soil but will thrive in neutral soil too. This is another one that is a big draw for bees and butterflies.
Team with: The pale violet blue spires of Perovsia ‘Blue Spire’ are absolutely delicious combined with the crimson of the Knautia macedonia.
Sowing your own.
You can sow most Scabious varieties from seed from January to March for flowering in June onwards. The Galway based online store Seeadholic has a wonderful selection of Scabious seeds in every colour from rich ultra-violet to claret and even near black ones as well as the unusual Scabiosa stellata. With a catalogue containing nearly 2,500 varieties of plants, it is no surprise that you can even find seeds of the native Succisa pratensis ‘Devil’s Bit Scabious’ if you’re after that really natural, and totally on-trend colour pop. Head to their website to read lots of interesting background on each variety and to source your own to sow this Spring. There is also plenty of information on how sow, plant on, cultivate and care for the plants on the comprehensive and very beautiful website. For more go to seedaholic.com