Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Upper South
June, 2009
Regional Report

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Love-in-a-mist is treasured for its blue flowers, feathery foliage, and unusual seed pods.

Love Conquers All

What a glorious time of year! So many colors and scents in the garden. An early morning walk among the flowers is a great gift to give to yourself. Like a bumblebee, I flit from one flower to the next, thinking in turn that each one is the best ever. Still, at this time of year, one flower always stands out. It has been a favorite of mine since my earliest memories.

Perhaps it was the name, love-in-a-mist. Or maybe that beautiful clear blue color and feathery foliage. Whatever the reason then, today I find even more reasons to cherish it in the garden. Incredibly easy to grow, love-in-a-mist is an old-fashioned cottage garden flower that readily fits into mixed borders and beds of perennials and annuals.

Mentioned in European garden literature since the 16th century, Nigella damascena has 2- to 3-inch threadlike foliage somewhat resembling fennel or dill. Plants grow about 1-1/2 to 2 feet tall. Although most commonly blue, the flowers may also be magenta, pink, purple, or white. Surrounded by the soft green foliage, each flower is about an inch across, with petals arranged around contorted green anthers.

'Persian Jewels,' with mixed colors, is the most popular strain, but many people search out 'Miss Jekyll' for its double flowers and richer hue. Other varieties include the dwarf 'Blue Midget' and 'Dwarf Moody Blue,' the double 'Cambridge Blue' and 'Oxford Blue,' and the rose-colored 'Mulberry Rose' and 'Red Jewel.'

In the garden, love-in-a-mist is valuable not only for its appearance, but also for the quality it brings as an airy element that softens and blends other plants together. The flowers are beautiful and long lasting in bouquets. After they fade, curious little bronze, balloon-like seed pods form. Hang stems of seed pods upside down to dry, then use in dried arrangements. The pods are filled with tiny black seeds that self-sow prolifically, but not to the point of irritation. Aromatic, the seeds are used as a spice to flavor cakes, breads, and curries.

Other than growing best in full sun and with good drainage, love-in-a-mist is not fussy. Seed can be sown into prepared soil either in October or early spring. Because of the long taproot, transplanting is not recommended. Ideally, plants are thinned to six inches apart and fed biweekly with a water-soluble fertilizer, but this is not required. Flowering begins near the end of May and continues for about a month or so, followed by the decorative seed pods. Let the plants self-sow, or gather the seed pods and distribute the seeds where you want them.

There are two other species of nigella also available. Nigella hispanica 'Curiosity' has scented, saucer-shaped, bright blue flowers to 2-1/2 inches across, with deep maroon stamens. Nigella orientalis 'Transformer' bears 1- to 2-inch yellow flowers followed by strongly ribbed seed pods that resemble inside-out umbrellas.

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