10 May 2013

Cerinthe you asked ...

In my last post, the photo of Cerinthe flowering ridiculously early certainly generated a lot of comments. It turns out that this plant is a favourite with many folks and deservedly so.

Cerinthe aka Honeywort

A comment left on that last post asked for advice on growing Cerinthe from seed saved last year.  I have to say that it couldn't be easier.

At this time of year (late spring), you can sow them outside, direct into finely raked soil. Water the soil first and cover the seeds with a bare quarter inch of soil.   You can also do this in autumn (late September) to get them off to an early spring start.

On the other hand, if you only have a few precious seeds, start them in small pots or modules indoors: soak seeds overnight to break down outer casing, sow at same depth of seed (about 2 - 3 mm deep) into free draining soil, wait 7 - 14 days for germination, let the seedling grow a bit before potting on; at about 3 inches tall, with 3 to 4 leaves, harden off and plant outside, leaving about 40cm between plants.  They're a Mediterranean plant and their waxy blue-green leaves are a big clue as to where to site them - a nice warm spot with plenty of sunshine will suit them best and see them thrive.  The soil doesn't have to be anything special, but must be well drained.  Mine grow on top soil over London clay and usually reach about 50cm high.

The stems can get a bit straggly in time and, as the drooping flowers are the whole point, it's quite nice to just support the stems a bit by staking, if you can be bothered. If you plant them closer together, they'll  prop each other up but won't look as nice.

That's it; drink up!

They flower over a long period.  If you're lucky, as they develop you'll get blue-green leaves with deep blue bracts surrounding a purple flower.  This isn't always the case though;  I've had Cerinthe with grey-green leaves and pink flowers in previous seasons.

Remember these plants are really good self-seeders; seedlings will pop up every year once you've had one plant in your garden.  Every purple flower has two fat seeds inside; not all will germinate but it's a good precaution to collect the seed before it drops.

Like Marigolds, etc, Cerinthe seeds can also be sown in the Autumn for earlier spring flowering. They are hardy plants and, once established, will pretty much cope with anything.  Slugs don't like them.  This is the first time that mine have come through the winter.  The warm extended autumn of 2011 meant that I pulled the ropey looking plants much later than usual, giving the seeds time to drop.  The cold and rain of 2012 meant that the conditions weren't right for germination until late summer so my plants were still relatively young by the time winter arrived and were left in situ.  A few gangly sorry looking specimens were put out of their misery earlier this year but the healthier ones were left - and I have early spring flowers as a result. It's lovely to see as other self seeded flowers (nasturtiums, sunflowers, marigolds, orach) are only just beginning to get going.

Cerinthe bee

They're not edible but are a real magnet for bees as the purple flowers are a good source of nectar.  They also make an interesting cut flower and will last better if you sear the ends of the stems in hot water for 30 seconds.  Grow them with Escholzia (Californian Poppies), Atriplex rubra (Orach), Verbena bonariensis, Bupleurum rotundiflorum and Linaria (toadflax) for a colourful display.

I hope this post has been useful and will inspire more people to grow these lovely plants.  Seeds are available all over the internet, although they're unlikely (but not impossible) to be found in garden centre or supermarket seed racks.  I started my Cerinthe stock with one small plant bought from Sarah Raven's nursery at Perch Hill and saved the seed each year thereafter.

Cerinthe



20 comments:

  1. I've never grown cerinthe but I've admired them on many blogs and everytime I do, I say to myself that I must buy a plant or some seeds so that I can grow them myself. They're a lovely plant and the bees love them, so I really must make an effort to source some seeds.

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    1. Just ask anyone who already grows it, Jo. You'll find that they're happy to hand some over. I always see so many plants on blogs that become 'must-haves' but I have to draw the line somewhere - there's just too many gorgeous plants out there!!

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  2. I'm going to check the seedlings in the greenhouse, I think I may have sown some.

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    1. Haha - so funny! You must have got a LOT of seedlings in your greenhouse! I remember what I've sown but I'm now at the point of wandering round thinking "Now, where did I put that [whatever]?" Plants will hopefully start to be planted outside sooooooooon.

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  3. A most excellent plant portrait Caro and beautifully illustrated. Have you noticed that when you sow seeds of cerinthe some of them produce two plants which is a most considerate habit :) I'm off to a Bee Festival tomorrow and am taking some spare seeds for the plant swap table.

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    1. :) Aah, thanks, Anna! I'll have to look out for "twin" plants - I haven't noticed this phenomenon before because I just leave them to grow where they fall outside! Have a wonderful time at your Bee Festival - it sounds fascinating! I imagine there will be lots of lovely things to buy and plants to come home with by the sounds of things! Have a great day!

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  4. lovely plant - definitely one for the list

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    1. You surprise me, Elaine; I would have thought a plantswoman like yourself would have this in your garden already! Perhaps I should send some seeds? Or are there too many plants on your wishlist already!!

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  5. Such lovely plants with beautiful flowers and as you say, the bees favourite. Anything that brings the bees into the garden is essential, I will make sure that I sow seeds each year in future!

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    1. Absolutely, Pauline! So pleased that everyone is switching on to planting for biodiversity - essential to have bee highways! Apparently London is fantastic for bees because of all the gardens and parks so close together. I love the fact that these flowers are unusually shaped as well as being full of nectar for bees. Definitely find seeds for next year!!

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  6. What a great post Caro, I was going to leave cerinthe until the Autumn but you have inspired me to get some seed and just start them off now. As you say, everything is so much later this year, might as well just roll with it.

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    1. My thoughts exactly, Janet. Who knows what the weather will throw at us next so we may as well just keep sowing in hopes of a good summer. If you start some seeds off in modules, you could pop them into the gaps in your borders when they're ready. Hopefully, with a good summer, you won't have to resow in the autumn, the plants will do it for you!

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  7. An interesting, and informative, post and terrific pictures. It's not a flower that I would grow but I can see why people do like it, and of course it''s great for bees. Flighty xx

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    1. I think your bees do well enough with your choice of flowers, Flighty! I'm always envious of your Poached egg plants, marigolds and poppies and, let's face it, we can't grow it all! Thanks for your lovely comments. Caro x

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  8. Thank you for the growing tips, very useful! got out my seeds, and got them going today, will let you know how I get on! very exciting :)

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    1. Hey there, Colin! Always a pleasure to pass on info to another enthusiast - really pleased you're going to give it a go. I'll look forward to seeing photos!! C x

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  9. They are such an unusual flower. I'm not so keen on the sprawling manner but do like how much the bees love them. I hadn't planned on growing any this year but then I acquired some young plants a few weeks ago. So it appears I'll have some after all.

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    1. Yes, I agree, Welly, they ARE rather untidy but soooo beneficial in the garden. Love the purple petal/bracts too! I don't usually stake and tie them but it's one way of keeping them rounded up. Must work on those willow woven plant supports!

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  10. I grew about 15 of these plants this year, they are beautiful! Unfortunately SOMETHING chewed them a lot when they were quite small (after I'd planted them in the garden, about end of May ) if it's not the slugs then what likes to eat them so much? �� Fenella

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    1. Hi Fenella, I think it's more than likely slugs which have nibbled your plants. My cerinthe are nearly all grown where the seeds fall in the garden. This means that they've put down good strong roots by the time the leaves appear and are strong plants. Any plugs that I grow from seed are not planted out until the plants are a good size (about four inches tall) and, if it's been wet in the garden, I mulch them with wool pellets (bark chippings or sharp grit would do as well). Seeds from mature Cerinthe plants are plentiful so try again by just sowing straight into the soil. I always sow in the autumn and spring, and pick the seed out and resow as soon as it's gone black on the plant. Hope this helps and good luck - it's worth persevering! Caro x

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Caro x

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