Honesty: an ancient favourite

July 6th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Lunaria annua var. albiflora

We’ve been growing honesty, Lunaria annua, for a long time. It was first grown in gardens way back in 1570 and first noticed as an escape from gardens in 1597. But the strange thing is that it’s never been found growing naturally in the wild – not anywhere. It’s found outside gardens over much of Britian but it’s always been traced back to cultivated plants.

This is an indispensible plant. A biennial, in spite of its botanical name, and now is the time to sow seed for flowering in spring next year. And the reason that it’s so valuable is that it has two distinct features. First of all, there’s the flowers, large four petalled flowers in purple or in pure white in well-branched sprays on plants up to 75cm high.

Then the flowers are followed by the familiar papery seed heads, flat pods the size of a 10p piece that dry so effectively for the winter.

Some gardeners find the usual form with its purple flowers a little crude in its colouring but grow it for the pods. The pure white form, though, is lovely and universally admired or the mix of the purple and the white is often grown.

In recent years other forms have arrived. Both flower colours are available with brightly splashed variegated leaves but this foliage divides gardeners’ opinions – sometimes fiercely!

A form with purple leaves and very dark flowers has also been seen recently but is not yet easy to find.

But the great thing about the white-flowered form is that it looks good with such a wide variety of other plants – so you can allow it to self sow and it will fit in anywhere. And it has an RHS Award of Garden Merit. So it must be good.

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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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