Sweet rocket: easy and super-scented

June 16th, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Sweet rocket (Hesperis matronalis)

Sweet rocket is one of the most fragrant plants we can grow and it’s so easy that I’m surprised we don’t see it more often. It has prolific heads of four-petal flowers, like those of wallflowers, but in softer shades of purple, lilac and white.

Plants in these shades are ideal scattered amongst bearded irises, Oriental poppies and other early summer perennials. Although the seed usually comes in a mix of colours, if you pull out plants in colours you’re less happy with then after a few years you’ll only have plants in the shades you prefer.

This is a biennial which may sometimes last an extra year or two if not too much energy goes into producing seed, so prompt deadheading is the way to go if you’d like it to last beyond its first flowering season.

It’s called sweet rocket because it’s related to edible rocket but has a superb evening scent. It also has a large number of other common names including dame’s rocket, night-scented gilliflower, summer lilac, and mother-of-the-evening. This profusion is usually associated with British natives but, although it grows wild over much of the rest of Europe, it’s not native to Britain. It has, however, been grown in British gardens since 1375 and was noticed as an escape from gardens from 1805.

The best seed sowing time is over the next six weeks so order seed now. There are two approaches to sowing. If you garden in an old fashioned, informal cottagey style you can simply scatter some seeds in the borders and enough will come up. You get 500 seeds in a packet so you’ll have plenty and, as I write, Mr F is offering seed at almost 50% off.

Alternatively, if you garden in a more organised way, you may prefer to sow the seed in a seed bed, thin the seedlings to 5cm apart and then, in the autumn, move them to where you’d like them to flower.

Oh. I must also mention that if you ever come across the double white flowered form – snap it up, it’s gorgeous. It’s called ‘Alba Plena’, it never sets seed, is a devil to propagate and will usually only last a few years. But it really is lovely.

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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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