Wallflowers — they’re so much more than the name implies

The flowers are appreciated for their sweet fragrance, frost tolerance, yellow flowers and blooming habit.

When I think of the word “wallflower,” or “shrinking violet” for that matter, I conjure up an image in my mind of a timid plant that is shy and socially challenged. It is not very flashy and prefers to grow in an obscure location where it will be barely noticed by the passing visitor.

But nothing could be farther from the truth when we are talking about wallflowers.

Popular in England, wallflowers have been planted for centuries where they are appreciated for their sweet fragrance, frost tolerance, bright and cheery yellow flowers, early-spring blooming habit and ease of cultivation. Because they are so easy to grow and have a tendency to reseed freely, you can find them sprouting up in the cracks of the pavement and, you guessed it, in the cervices of walls — hence the name wallflower.

The standard wallflower is what we call a biennial, which simply means that the plant grows leaves the first season and then in the second season it blooms, sets seeds and then dies. But most modern wallflowers are short-lived perennials that will bloom for two to three years before they exhaust themselves and need to be replanted.

Of all the wallflowers on the market, my all-time favorite is one called “Bowles Mauve,” which grows to 2 feet by 2 feet and is covered with mauve-colored flowers the entire summer, not just in early spring like the traditional varieties. What it lacks in the sweet fragrance of the straight species, it more than makes up for with its non-stop blooming.

About five years ago, a breeder in Europe by the name of Har Stemkens was able to cross “Bowles Mauve” with the traditional species and come up with a new series that has the long-blooming trait of “Bowles” coupled with the color range of the species.

These new introductions are now being marketed under the names of Erysistible “Tricolor,” “Sunset” and “Yellow.” I am confident there are more colors in the pipeline, but these three are a good start. In case you are wondering, the botanical genus for wallflower is Erysimum, which explains the clever marketing name of Erysistible.

While Stemkens was busy working on his creation, different breeders were making their own crosses and, consequently, you can find many new hybrid wallflowers on the garden center benches this time of year, next to other early spring-blooming perennials. “Winter Orchid” and “Winter Passion” are two new ones that have multicolored flowers of red, purple and orchid all on the same plant, along with a lovely sweet fragrance.

While I didn’t think it was possible to improve upon “Bowles Mauve.” “Super Bowl Mauve” claims to be even better, blooming two to three weeks sooner and sporting fragrance — all of which remains to be seen, in my opinion. They are currently sitting on our benches at the nursery, so I guess I will find out soon enough.

Wallflowers are easy to grow as long as you give them good drainage and a sunny location. They are the perfect plant for interjecting some early blooms into the garden and, with the new hybrids, many will continue to bloom throughout the summer. A little trimming as the blooms fade will always help to keep them vigorous and in constant color.

Don’t be put off by their misleading name — they are garden standouts that are anything but shy and retiring. Give some a try this spring, and find out for yourselves.

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached by info@sunnysidenursery.net.

Green lawns

Want an emerald green lawn? Attend a free class all about achieving the lawn of your dreams at 10 a.m. March 7 and again at 11 a.m. March 8 at Sunnyside Nursery, 3915 Sunnyside Blvd, Marysville. For more information or to sign up, visit www.sunnysidenursery.net.

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