I need to share one of my absolute favourite plants, Lychnis coronaria. Its common names include ‘Dusty Miller’, ‘Rose Campion’ and, the one I only learnt recently, ‘Bridget in her Bravery’.
This suits this plucky little character, who enlivens the June and July garden with magenta sprays of flowers.
I discovered this plant through my mum. She supplied me with two or three plants she dug up and divided about three seconds after I admired it. From those limp little divisions wrapped in damp newspaper and chucked in the back of the car, I now have dozens of plants.
The most obvious thing to love is the colour. I adore magenta flowers, but this plants always has a mixture of magenta flowers in their prime, those with more red in them that are newly opened, and those that are going over and deepening to purple.
Each flower has a whitish corona at the centre of the flower. There is slight veining to help direct pollinators to the centre of the flower, where the action is.
Lychnis has five petals, rather like a buttercup or hardy geranium. The bud opens out flat, and then the petals relax backwards to give insects easy access to the pollen and nectar. When the flower is newly opened, there is a little protected cone at the centre,
But then this opens out to reveal the stamens and stigma (to refresh your biology see A Gallery of Geraniums). The protective spikes produce a little crown, or coronet, at the centre.
Lychnis petals have a velvety texture, and there is a slight iridescence. These dew-drops show the bumpy surface of the petals.
The name ‘Dusty Miller’ references the silver-white stems, which are soft and furry, like felt.
The flower-stems are stiff, and bounce back if you knock the plant. They can reach about a metre in height. If you deadhead individual flowers, then the spray will keep extending and producing more flowers for several weeks.
In reality, this becomes a bit tedious, and I generally let Lychnis set seed, or I cut off the stems when there are more seedheads than flower-buds, and the stem is looking dry and wizened.
It is worth sometimes lying on the grass so that you can see Bridget-in-her-Bravery against a blue sky.
Lychnis is fabulous with purple Salvia. Here it is with Salvia x superba:
I adore the marvellous clash here with Rosa ‘Summer Song’:
This is perhaps my favourite, with Geum ‘Hilltop Beacon’. It is like the Geum has whispered something wicked and the Lychnis is revelling in it.
Lychnis foliage is a little rosette of furry leaves. They spend most of the year looking like a moth-infested woolly blanket. For a brief period in spring, up shoot some new erect leaves and some ever-extending flower-stems. Then one day at the end of May, out will pop these little bursts of marvellous magenta.
It is at the top of the plant where you want to settle your eye, so plant Bridget with partners who will disguise her flea-ridden derriere. Salvia, Geraniums, Geums and Aquilegia will all do the job.
Lychnis likes a light, sandy soil, but does pretty well for me in clay. It will tolerate drought well.
Lychnis is a short-lived perennial, so will dry up and keel over after two or three years. It can be propagated either by letting it set seed, which it will do fairly generously, or by crown division. This is a gardener’s way of saying dig it up and pull it apart.
It can be difficult to get enough root with each section, and sometimes you will have sad little disasters where you accidentally pull off leaves and no root. Such is life: don’t berate yourself; you were only doing your best. As I read on a classroom wall the other day, ‘Mistakes are proof that you are trying’.
Do you grow Lychnis? Does it do well for you? Does anyone have any other common names for it?
I must give credit to my very arty eldest daughter who took both the header image and the blue sky image. I owe much to her more creative eye when setting up a camera angle.
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