Getting the best from Nigella

July 25th, 2014 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Nigella, Digitalis and AlchemillaIt’s simple, really. There are some hardy annuals that are best sown in late summer instead of in spring and Nigella, Love-In-A-Mist, is one of them. Here’s why.

First of all, it’s what happens in the wild. The plants flower in the late spring and summer, the seed ripens and falls to the ground, and some of it germinates fairly quickly. Because it’s too late in the season for them to bloom, the plants then develop in two ways. In the run up to winter, they form attractive rosettes of prettily divided leaves and this foliage powers the creation of an extensive root system.

In spring, when you might usually be thinking about sowing seed, these plants are already well established and so are way ahead of the spring sown plants. They make larger plants which produce far more flowers and that well-developed root system carries the plants happily through dry spells when growth of shallow-rooted spring-sown plants grinds to a halt. So you can see it’s well worth trying.

Nigella 'Midnight', also known as Nigella papillosa. Nigella ‘Miss Jekyll’ is the old favourite, in a beautiful sky blue shade it’s lovely in the garden and invaluable in a vase with old roses. If you prefer a mixture, ‘Persian Jewels’ comes in blue, purple, mulberry and pink shades plus white. ‘Midnight’, the fancy name for the species N. papillosa, is dark purplish blue with a crown of deep purplish red, embryonic seed pods in the centre while ‘African Bride’ is the white form, but retaining that dark red centre.

Finally, look out for the rarely seen ‘Blue Stars’, a fancy name for the species N. bucharica. The flowers are definitely smaller than those of other varieties, but they come in huge numbers. And – I’ve no idea why – this plant is also known as Emir of Buchara!

You can sow all these nigellas over the next six weeks, see them on the Mr Fothergill’s website.

 

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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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