Mediterranean must-have

February 23rd, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Cerinthe major 'Purpurescens'

Cerinthe is relatively new in our gardens. It’s not a flamboyant plant and until about thirty years ago it was very rarely seen. But one particular variety began to catch our attention, Mr F spotted the growing enthusiasm and so it’s listed here, both as seed and as plants.

Cerinthe major is the species with the largest flowers, and is found around the Mediterranean, on both the African and the European sides, often where the soil retains a little moisture. It makes an upright, rather succulent plant whose seed often germinates in the autumn and flowers in spring.

The tubular flowers hang down in clusters and are usually yellow and white but in ‘Purpurascens’, the variety to look for, they’re deep purple and surrounded by smoky purple-tinted bracts. The flowers are very popular with bees, which explains its common name: honeywort..

Seed can be sown in autumn or spring – as usual with Mediterranean plants autumn sowing produces better plants, and they’re happy in any reasonably fertile soil in sun. They’ll flower for months, especially if deadheaded.

The stems also last well when cut, which is perhaps surprising when you see how succulent and juicy they are. Searing the ends in boiling water for twenty seconds will ensure that they last at least a week, and often ten days.

But don’t cut or deadhead all the stems, leave some to make seed and self sow and you’ll never be without this colourful and intriguing flower.

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Is one of our best known gardening writers. A graduate of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Graham was previously Gardening Correspondent of The Observer.
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