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How to grow wallflowers

how to grow wallflowers

Wallflowers have a special place in my heart. When I catch that sweet, almost orangey, scent I am transported back to sitting on a front door step in my Grandad Clark's garden - rows of bright wallflowers under the roses.

He bought them as plants - slimy roots wrapped in newspaper, their only scent at that time a cabbagey whiff of decomposition.

Decades later - when I was making my first garden - we visited Monet's garden at Giverney. There I was bowled over anew by wallflowers, great blowing cushions of wallflowers in amongst bright tulips under espalier apple trees in blossom. It was the most beautiful thing I had seen, the flowers were like watercolour washes and their ample flowers filled in all the gaps between the tulips - a swirl of colour and texture.

So, though my memories of wallflowers are of my Grandad, the way I plant them is more an emulation of Giverney than the straight lines of a 1970s North East of England front garden.

And to get that - to get the tall, mottled, glowing flowers you really need to grow from seed. They aren't varieties that make it to the garden centre.

Wallflowers are biennials - or more accurately short lived perennials that are most commonly grown as biennials. That means that you sow the seeds in May, they do most of their growing between May and November, they hunker down and don't do much over the winter and then, when the weather warms up in the spring, they burst into flower.

I think it is this feeling of "2 years to grow" that means they are not a popular plant to grow from seed.

apricot sunset wallflower

Choosing a variety.

There are 2 main types of wallflowers - bedding and cut flowers varieties. The main difference is in height - bedding ones grow to about 12-15 cm and are ideal for filling in-between other temporary spring plants. You will see this type in a lot of parks and civic gardens. The cut flower varieties are much taller - about 30-40 cm - and ideally they should be staked in some way or they topple over.

My favourites are the cut flower varieties in subtle mottled colours - Sunset apricot (middle photo) is a mix of apricot, peach and slightly raspberry tones, Sunset purple is a cream and purple wash (in top photo), Fire King (in jug in bottom photo) is a wonderful mottled orange which seems to go with everything.

I have found that there is a fair amount of variation in the sunset varieties in particular - but personally I like that as it stops it looking too uniform.

Sowing seed.

If you have a nursery bed, you can do it the traditional way start off wallflowers there, grow them on and transplant to their final flowering position in late winter. Make sure that your soil is alkali - or rake gardener's lime into it before you plant.

Otherwise sow seeds finely into a seed tray of multi-purpose compost, cover with a fine layer of compost or vermiculite and leave to germinate. Like most brassicas they germinate fast and should be up in 5-10 days.

When they are sturdy seedlings with at least 4 leaves, prick them out into modules or small pots. Mix a couple of handfuls of gardeners' lime into your potting compost to make it alkali.

Growing on.

I find that my garden - in central Scotland is a bit too wet and windy for wallflowers to be happy outside over winter in their first year. I tend to plant them into large pots and keep them somewhere sheltered until it is time for them to go into their final position. Next year I am going to put some temporary mini windbreaks along the tulip border as I think that, where I lost plants, it was because of the wind.

Anywhere that you are going to plant wallflowers should be alkali - they do not like acid soil at all - sprinkle lime where you are going to plant and rake in well. They are perfectly happy in poor soil - indeed will grow in the lime mortar of walls - so are perfect for anywhere in your garden that may suffer from builders rubble!

Most of the plant's growing will have been done in the summer and autumn of their first year, so you can plant them out quite close together when you put them in their final position. They traditionally used to be sold bare root in twists of newspaper which shows how tolerant they are of replanting.

Next year.

Though many people grow wallflowers as biennials - chucking them out after they have flowered - they are in fact short lived perennials and will live for 4 or 5 years in many gardens.

If you don't want them to remain where you have had them for their spring show - and it must be said that they are not the most attractive plant in the summer/autumn - then you can cut off all the flowering shoots and dig up, storing them temporarily in another part of the garden until they are needed again.

apricot sunset wallflower cut flower

Cut flowers.

Wall flowers are wonderful cut flowers as the heat indoors magnifies their scent. They are the perfect 'filler flower' to put in between tulips and narcissi, but I also love tight massed bunches of them alone. Together they look like old faded velvets and silks.

Pick the stems into a bucket of water, strip all the leaves, sear the stem ends in boiling water for 20 seconds and then leave in a loose bunch in a vase of tepid water to condition.

Arrange in a vase or jug that is not transparent - they are from the cabbage family and the stems do not look attractive after a few days in water!

For more tips, get my free guide to cut flowers by signing up for the newsletter below.

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A few years ago I grew lots of dark, deep, sumptuous flowers - it was purely fashion, the way that seeing things repeatedly works its way into your brain so that you begin to order lots of seeds with 'night' and 'black' and 'midnight' in their names.⁠⠀
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Navy, Burgundy, Royal Purple, I planted them all, thinking of a vibrant Persian carpet of plants, and then couldn't work out why my garden looked so blooming dull.⁠ ⁠⠀
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It was the sunflowers that made me see the error of my ways - their deep burgundy petals sinking into the surrounding green, invisible at dusk.⁠ ⠀
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Because everyone knows that sunflowers are meant to be yellow. ⁠⠀
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These ones are Vanilla Ice - pinched out to flower at waist height with lots of soft yellow blooms, a lovely cheerful thicket in front of the sweet peas.⁠⠀
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(I'm sure that many people will violently disagree with me, maybe it is the Scottish light . . . maybe it was my combinations or the lack of low sunshine through the main borders . . . but they never ever glowed from inside as I had hoped)
One of my aims in life is to encourage people to make things with their hands. 
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Simple things, simple skills - I believe that it helps us connect something in our brain that consuming electronically never will. 
This eco-beauty knitting kit is back in stock (click through profile). Everything you need to make facecloths and makeup wipes and teach yourself to knit along the way. 
If you already have cottons and needles then there is a pattern for a more complicated face cloth back in my blogs (search the tag eco making!).
One of the things that I’m gradually getting better at is planting the plants that actually want to grow here, rather than cajoling along ones that really would prefer to be growing in the south. ⠀
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The raised beds went into our productive garden in April - so really only a few months ago - and already it is full of blooms. All are hardy annuals, easy, beautiful, generous plants - sweet peas, calendula, ammi, cornflowers. ⠀
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Sometimes people are snobby about them - because they are simple to grow I think. ⠀
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I’ve written a blog post about how to keep them blooming all summer which you can get to via the link in my profile.
Did you see Gardeners World on Friday evening?  It was all about meadows - a whole hour of life affirming beauty, interesting people making a difference and encouragement to let the edges of your lawn grow wild. I loved it. 
One interesting thing was that there are seemingly 23 million gardens in the UK, many more than I had thought. So much potential. 
We are now planning to create a strip of annuals along the edge of the lawn, in front on the box hedge that bounds the productive garden. 
Anyway it inspired me to get out my old floristry things - these were the kinds of arrangements I did most when I arranged wedding flowers - lines of upright meadow flowers - though obviously they were in water (most often small plastic pots hid by mossy rocks or sods of long grass, high up on church windows.)
These particular flowers are now safely in bottles on my windowsill.
Yesterday morning, first thing, I took this photo of my bedroom windowsill, pale pink roses saved from the rain.⁠⠀
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Their colour made me think of instagrammer @andreacolvile and her love of beautiful pastel flowers.⁠⠀
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I lay in bed early this morning listening to the rain. We have French doors in our bedroom and at night they are usually open so that the animals can come and go without waking us up. ⠀
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I could smell the roses, the scent gently drifting in - not these roses which are in the productive garden, but a pink David Austin rose.  A rose that sulked for years that it wasn’t growing in a Sussex garden and then decided last year just to get on with it and bloom. ⠀
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