As I sit and write this blog I know for a fact that there will at least one person who will be happy to read it, and no I’m not talking about my Mum this time! For the last couple of years, Matthew Law our Formal Garden Supervisor here at Chartwell, has been bugging me to produce a blog about the story of our wallflowers, from seed to flower. For one reason or another it never happened but now finally, here is that story!
The wallflowers here at Chartwell have almost done their job as we reach the end of April. We use them as Spring bedding, along with the likes of Myosotis, Tulips, Bellis and Hyacinths, and also as cut flowers for the house before the Summer annuals start to take over. Erysimum cheiri (as Wallflowers like to called) are also still known as Cheiranthus cheiri sometimes, and are part of the Brassicaceae family that contains the likes of cabbages, broccoli and cauliflower. Native to Europe, they are also found commonly in North Africa, Asia and North America. They thrive in poor or moderately fertile soils that are preferably alkaline and in full sun.
The wallflowers we raise here are grown as biennials, meaning that they produce vegetative growth during the first year and then flower in the second year. We therefore do a lot of the work in the previous year, up to 9 months before they produce they showy flowers. You can sow the seeds of wallflowers any time from late Spring until mid Summer – June is ideal. They are quick and easy to germinate if kept moist and warm. Once the germinated seedlings produce their first sets of true leaves they can be pricked out into modules as shown below:
The time to plant out your wallflower plants will be dictated to some extent by the weather and by how far along your plants are. Any time from late August until mid October will be fine while the soil is still still warm but has a reasonable moisture content. Always make sure that the plants have been hardened off first though, moving from greenhouse to cold frame before being placed at the mercy of the British climate.
A little trick to create healthier, bushier plants is to pinch out the growing tips of the young plants before they enter their Winter dormancy. Allow me to demonstrate…!
The English Wallflower is so called because it is associated with ruins of old castles where it can literally grow on the walls and masonry of the old castle ruins. It was brought to the British Isles as a medicinal plant as early as the Norman Conquest and began to naturalize in England, Scotland and Ireland. Also sometimes known as Cheiry of Keiry, Bee Flower or Heart’s Ease, the former genus name Cheirianthus means ‘Handflower’, a name given because it was carried in the hand during medieval festivals. The species name of cheiri is related to the medieval common name ‘Chevisaunce’ or ‘Cherisaunce’, which means ‘Comfort’, perhaps because of its medicinal properties or because of its comforting scent and beauty.
The Greek physician Galen believed wallflowers were useful for regulating the menstrual cycle, to relieve pain of childbirth, for liver & kidney problems and to clear cataracts. The plant does in fact contain cardiac glycosides called cheiranthosides, similar to digitalis, which can have pretty intense effects on the body. They could be potentially curative presuming of course the toxicity didn’t kill the user first! Its modern use as a herbal remedy is rare though, due to this toxic dangerousness.
The wallflower has also long been a symbol of doomed lovers. Legend has it that Elizabeth, the daughter of the Earl of March in 14th Century Scotland, dropped a wallflower from her father’s castle window as a signal to her lover that she was willing to elope with the son of King Robert III, her father’s foe. Her father, angered by her choice of lover, imprisoned her in Neidpath Castle. The prince, disguised as a minstrel, then waited near the castle wall for his beloved’s signa, when to his delight the flower fell nearby. However, Elizabeth, while attempting to climb down from the castle, fell to her death. The young prince then left Scotland, grief-stricken, roaming throughout Europe, but always keeping a sprig of wallflower in his cap.
If you pay us a visit here in Churchill’s gardens any time soon you can still catch our wallflowers before they go over and are replaced with Summer bedding. And don’t forget it will soon be time for the whole cycle to begin again so why try some for yourself?