GARDENING / Power Flowers: A hand-picked guide to hardy perennials: 6: Wallflower

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The Independent Culture
WALLFLOWERS arrived with the Normans and have been popular for their scent and early cheerfulness ever since. In college gardens or under the windows of great houses, they are an enviable sight. However, few amateurs can afford the time or the money for spring bedding today, so wallflowers have gone to the wall.

The modern way to manage them is to choose the perennial ones. Now known as Erysimums, these are not uniform enough in growth to furnish a bedding scheme, but in mixed plantings they will flower for much longer than true wallflowers; some are powerfully scented.

'Bowles' Mauve' (pictured above) is the best-known of the group. It is easily grown from cuttings and will make a fat grey bush in a season. All spring, faintly scented purple flowers smother the bush and, throughout the summer, if you can be bothered to dead-head the plant, it will continue to throw up a few flowers. The bushes tend to get large and leggy, so it is better to renew them each summer with a few outdoor cuttings stuck into the ground. If these are pinched out they will be respectable enough by the following spring to grow on through the summer. Bowles' Mauve is the easiest of the Erysimums and if you wanted a trouble-free patch it would be a good choice. Planted with a few primrose-yellow tulips for spring, as well as some white lilies for summer, and set against a backdrop of the long-flowering clematis Perle d'Azur, Bowles' Mauve would give you a long season of colour. The leaves are good too.

'Harpur Crewe' is a double Elizabethan variety, which was named after the Victorian vicar who revived its popularity. It is much smaller than Bowles' Mauve but the scent from one sprig of its golden flowers is strong. On a sunny day it will rise to an opened window in approved wallflower fashion. Paler and smaller than Harpur Crewe, the tiny sulphur-yellow 'Moonlight' is good on a wall or in paving.

The Erysimums, like wallflowers, also come in shades of red. Dark velvet and most desirably scented of all is one with the video-nasty name 'Bloody Warrior'. This may not sound like what you want in the garden, but it is another one to put under the window. It too can be kept going from season to season if you are prepared to take the odd cutting, which is much easier than raising seed in boxes. Bloody Warrior's flowers open with a touch of yellow, but darken to deep red.

There are a couple of two- and three-tone forms of more permanent wallflower which you either love or hate. For those suffering from an overdose of quiet good taste, Toffee, in shades of brown, orange and dead lavender, would be a challenge. Mutabilis is more subtle in cream and bronze and mauve, and smells delicious. Orange - not what the best-dressed gardens seem to be wearing this decade - can be found in 'Orange Flame', which is scented too. Around brick houses, try it with the scented tulip Generaal de Wet (a paler shade of orange) as an antidote to pastel shades and all-white gardens.

It is often forgotten that the high priestess of white gardens, Vita Sackville-West, also had a sunset garden at Sissinghurst. This included blood-red wallflowers and many shades of orange. Perhaps a long overdue sunset revival, where all these daring perennial wallflowers can be accommodated, is the thing for 1993.

(Photograph omitted)