GARDENING / Power Flowers: A hand-picked guide to hardy perennials 2: Mallow

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The Independent Culture
THE mallow family have simple flowers with open faces, the sort that a child might draw. They tend to come in pastel shades. Like their confectionery counterpart, the marshmallow (which is made from the roots of Althaea officinalis), they do not seem, on first acquaintance, to be top rankers. The marshmallow is not exactly a luxury sweet, but it has its uses. Mallow flowers share some of the bland sugary-pretty qualities of their namesake sweet. You would probably leave them out of bold planting schemes where large leaves and towering spikes were the desired effect. But where a smaller border of flowers in old-fashioned profusion is the aim, mallows are unbeatable and most flower for months on end.

The easiest of the mallows is a native British wild flower, Malva moschata, which comes in pink and white forms. In a sunny place the musk mallows will flower through June until autumn, and although they are not long-lived they seed freely. The pink can be a bit dingy, but the white is well worth growing. About a month longer in flower, the Italian upright mallow (Malva alcea fastigiata) is taller at around 3ft, with rose-pink flowers. Tallest and darkest of the trio is Malva Silvestris mauritiana, which flowers for most of the summer. It is a stronger pink tinged with purple.

The indispensable mallow for me is a creeping blue one. Malva 'Primley Blue' is a form of the common mallow which grows in waste places, so it is understanding about soil; but it does like sun. This mallow has pure blue flowers all summer. It can climb up into other plants or spread its trails of blue over a large space, and it also looks good in pots. Primley Blue's only faults are that it is not long-lived nor, in cold places, is it reliably hardy; but cuttings are easy to root.

On a larger scale is an old favourite, Lavatera olbia, the tree mallow. It comes in a dirty version of shocking pink, which looks good in a strong red and purple border but is not an adornment to pale colour schemes. Luckily a white, tinged with pink, version of this long-flowering standby occurred in Rosemary Verey's garden a few years ago. And so irresistible have its pale flowers proved, that Lavatera 'Barnsley' is now a garden cliche. This mallow can revert to the old pink olbia form and like all members of the family is not long-lived. But a shoot stuck in the ground in August will make a new plant for the following year; in two years, if you pinch back the growing shoots all summer, it will have grown to five or six feet. The Barnsley mallow is easy to place and reliable. Like all members of the mallow family (which includes hollyhocks and sidalcea) it will do best in a sunny place.

(Photograph omitted)